It’s the season. The riotous preparations, the rush of homecomings and the 21-pound turkey — all will be taking center stage in our household, and probably yours, this week.
What makes this year so different and special for Jewish families is that we also will be celebrating Hanukkah, with everyone exclaiming, “Wow, this is weird!”
But it’s also wonderful. The confluence of two holidays, both in varying ways about gratitude, is special and so rare that the next time it will happen will be in a mere 70,000 years from now. So we’re talking rare indeed.
Fascinating as that is, I find myself concentrating on things far less rare, but to me, equally remarkable.
We’re among the lucky ones. Our family will gather together on Thanksgiving day. All of us. In other years, it has not been quite so complete a contingent. In those years, someone — or several someones — would be missing for various reasons. But this year, seven noisy grandchildren will be at our table.
Three sons-in-laws who have long since shed the “in-law” status and become the sons we never had, will be in our midst. Gentle Jeff brings a sense of calm to us, psychoanalyst David helps us to understand ourselves without ever being a pedantic Dr. Freud and Michael, the youngest of the bunch, will keep us laughing, as always.
On Thanksgiving day, that old beast of burden, our antique dining room table, will be stretched to the limit. We have had some heartaches — that’s part of being a family. We miss those whose absence at the table is a palpable presence. But again, loss is part of the dance of the generations.
It seems so many Thanksgivings ago since we sat, stunned and silent, as we acknowledged what made that Thanksgiving of 2001 so different from all the others. Like people in Kansas and California, Kentucky and Idaho, we had all recognized that nothing would ever be quite the same after Sept. 11.
That year, no matter what our personal politics, we had prayed for a better future for this ragged old Planet Earth.
At our Thanksgiving table this year, we probably won’t be thinking of all that as we look around at the faces we know so well, and dig into dishes that have taken on a life of their own as family members.
The old family home where we gathered for 28 Thanksgivings is no longer the family home. That has required a major emotional shift because our condominium, despite its more practical floor plan, hasn’t yet earned the patina of familiarity.
We’ve had to learn, as we take stock of where we are in our own family universe this Thanksgiving/Hanukkah, that change is, as they say, inevitable.
One daughter has gotten a well-deserved promotion, another has cautiously tried a new career. . Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore in college with all the inherent pleasures - and pressures - of that stage of life. Our youngest grandson hit two home runs for his baseball team this fall, and is walking very, very tall.
My sister has had the good sense to retire from her ultra-demanding college teaching job to pause, metaphorically, at least, to smell those famous flowers.
My husband has been smelling those flowers after working with grace and compassion in the battlefield of justice.
Yes, there have been joys and disappointments and setbacks great and small for us in the year that stretched between last Thanksgiving and this double-holiday. There have been moments of pain and loss. But as I search out recipes on the crumpled pages of old cookbooks, I feel a swell of gratitude.
An overwhelming sense of thankfulness wraps itself around me.
We are about to celebrate the quintessential American holiday - and a joyous Jewish one - in the only way we know: as a flawed, noisy but loving family.
How marvelous. ••