Some Reflections on Thanksgiving, from an Englishman

"Let us give thanks
For generous friends,with hearts as big as Hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms"

  -  Max Coots

In the past five years, Thanksgiving has become my top favourite holiday. I never was much of a fan of Christmas with its inflated expectations of presents and cards and conspicuous consumption, I consider New Year's Eve to be an excuse for drunken revelry (I myself allow myself a small tot single malt whisky drunk outside at the stroke of midnight, with a little poured on the Earth as a libation offering to whichever gods and goddesses may be watching). Saint Patrick's Day passes me by - I'm English, not Irish, and then there's the drunken revelry again. Saint Valentine can pretty much take a hike, too. I have my sweetheart, and I'm of the school that says that your beloved gets a card, and no-one else. Hallowe'en means dressing up and passing out a few sweetmeats, but I'm not going to get into mass decorations of skulls, fake blood and fog machines either. I draw the line at a well-crafted, hand-carved genuine Jack-o'-lantern, me.

I never celebrated my birthday much (it is pure co-incidence that grundoon and I were handfasted on the fifth of February, and I tend to forget others' birthdays with great skill. all this is not to say that I'm a wet blanket, just that I have different priorities. Grundoon and I celebrate our wedding anniversary (Beltane, the first of May), our handfasting and the occasional positive cancer (or non-cancer) event. I enjoy celebrating, just I hate being forced into it.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, brings out the best in me. It's about hospitality, good food, good friends and sharing in a genuine spirit of, well, giving thanks! I say this as a fairly recent convert to the American way of life - my very first real social outing in the US was at the home of some very good friends of grundoon's, people she'd known all her life. They are truly hospitable folks, charming, friendly, sociable and ever-welcoming. They welcomed me into their home in 2004, my having been a few short weeks into courtship and a few short days in the US. It was a breath of fresh air, for the most part, although for me somewhat daunting in some respects.

Here's the thing about me. No-one believes that I am, in fact, fairly shy. I tend to prefer my own company, and whilst I'm comfortable in small intimate groups, faced with a large gathering, I tend to migrate to the outside, where I watch what's going on rather than participate. So true is this that the larger the group, the farther out I tend to be. So this first Thanksgiving was a double challenge - not only were there twenty-plus strangers there ( I knew only my sweetie), but there were those who were clearly in the mind of scoping me out to see whether I was a suitable match for Christine.

They fell into two camps. First, old friends who'd known her for years upon years, and family, likewise. Equally, there were many differing approaches to the quizzing I endured. Our hostess, who is a sweet Southern lady, was very delicate and charming with her questions, concerned not to frighted or upset me, but intent on learning something quite deep about me. Not that I was surprised, after all, she'd known Christine since she was a bump, and clearly felt a little protective and concerned that her practically-adopted daughter was not making some dreadful, blindly-romantic error. But she was charming, a delightful conversationalist and I was also getting to know her, so it wasn't an ordeal.

Her cousin K—, on the other hand, was a little more direct. Not in the sense of "What are your intentions...?" intense, but definitely getting that way. A little more probing, a little more blunt. I could see two sides of her quite clearly - again she was charming and friendly, but there was certainly some deep and serious probing going on. Had she been a Vulcan, she'd have done that Spock thing of plonking her dannies on my head and reading my mind. But I could see her concern and allowed the interrogation to proceed.

Finally I remember C—, willowy-tall and beautiful. She was clever, asking peripheral questions that were clearly uncovering elements of my personality, and interspersing this with distant introductions to others at the gathering. I suspected at the time that each of these women (all now beloved to me) had carefully planned these three encounters, although I now believe that they didn't. Maybe I'm just choosing to believe, but it all ended well, so I puzzle it no more.

Suffice to say that everyone I met there has become most dear to me, and imprinted on me a love of the holiday, for which I continually give thanks.

One final anecdote, though. At some point during the day, I'd gone outside to sit and bask in the sun (I'm the loner, remember), when I heard a strange, low buzz that moved fast nearby. Looking around I noticed a hummingbird, at first perched on a branch, then zooming away briefly, only to hover in front of me, displaying his iridescence to me. Now I come from an isle that has no bird quite as glorious, magical and exotic as this, so I excitedly ran inside, where in the old tradition of a six-year-old, I announced "I just saw a hummingbird outside!". The guests looked at me, and almost as one, said "Ye-e-e-s?" How could I make them understand? Simple. Six years old again, I cried "But it's a HUMMINGBIRD! We don;t get them where I come from! It's like seeing a...REAL LIVE DRAGON!". They of course laughed, because here in this neck of the woods they're almost as common as, say, sparrows. Just prettier. I decided they couldn't possibly understand, and withdrew outside to allow them space to laugh at the outsider.

I tell the tale because it drew my attention to the fact that I was not "in Kansas" anymore, but also to explain that this little bird has become a magical symbol for me, so much so that one of the best gifts I had (two Christmasses ago) was a hummingbird calendar, and I still shiver with delight whenever I see them flitting impossibly about.

Now for the rest of the News

It's not been quite plain sailing here at the Wertoon Ranch. Doubtless you know of Christine's continuing battle with cancer, the treatment thereof and the dreadful drugs she has to take. Gamma knife brain surgery twice in the past year, deep vein thrombosis (a by-product of the cocktail of drugs she's on), not to mention sprained ankles, knees, backs and intense cluster headaches whilst on vacation in Canada. Add into this a series of forgetting-mistakes, and we had an veritable nova-expanding set of minor disasters whose outcomes left us both tired, crabby and skint.

It began with two forgetfulnesses on my part. Or rather, one seriously forgotten passport (mine) and one misunderstood leaving-behind of drugs (Christine's blood-thinning meds but my error). Christine had flown up to her family's summer place on Lake Matinenda and the plan was for me to drive up to Canada in our somewhat aged (almost vintage) Toyota Camry. I had been left a list of "things to bring", which I dutifully packed into the car. One item threw me. A bag containing, among other oddities, ballet shoes. Now simple soul that I am, I could not conceive of any reason she would want ballet shoes at a lakeside cottage, amongst the mud and whatnot, so I determined that she'd made a mistake, and left it out. This was to prove the most expensive leaving-behind of anything I ever neglected to pack, ever. Clearly the date of my leaving was Saint Bastard's Day.

Forgetting my passport was just plain stupid, and I discovered this fairly early. In Montana, in fact, on checking my small luggage. I did all the things one does when forgetting a passport; I cursed, I slapped myself about a bit, and I called the people at whose house I'd been staying. No, there was no passport. After they'd counted the absence of passport twice, I concluded that it was there, but hidden. Hidden in a small fire safe. Which weighed about ten pounds, and to which they did not have the key. Panicked, I failed to see the simplest solution, so they kindly offered to pack the whole safe up and post it post restante to Sault Sainte Marie on the US side of the border. Yes, I had the key. It was only after collecting the box (stamped and wrapped in USPS tape, that I realised I could have simply sent them the key to open the thing and mail just the passport. But then, I'm an idiot sometimes, and this idiocy cost me a tad under $80.

The remainder of the bloody tale is this - the bag I left behind contained Christine's blood thinner, required to treat the clot in her leg. This was serious, and potentially deadly. Were that clot to move and lodge in her lungs, or brain, it could have been Game Over. Fortunately she had a small supply in Canadia. Just as well, as it took us over two weeks of mostly-futile phone calls interspersed with 100-mile trips to the nearest Rite-Aid (over the border) to get the stuff. At a cost of $1200 of phone calls.

Not to mention one dead car. Yes, on one of these pointless trips (the medicine was never where they said it would be) the engine did what all engines must, and threw some vital bearing or other, and died. Someone had forgotten to fill the (slightly leaky) thing with the vital blood that is oil. I suppose it was inevitable, really. So our plans of having a car in the area to save money on car rentals back-fired. Instead we had to pay towing fees, wrecking fees and probably some other fees. Additionally, due to some creative cockups on the part of the American banking system, and an inability to carry the one, we were also much shorter of cash than we'd thought, meaning that the last few days were a whirlwind of extracting money from friends (without whom, etc...) to get us back to California, via Toronto. Late, so we had another fee to pay to the airline to change our flights.

Back home, we then moved into a new rental, started Tess at Junior High and started the attempt to unravel our finances. We're still alive, are not starving and still have a roof over our heads, but the effect (particularly on me) was devastating. Blaming myself for the series of vacation disasters, I withdrew into dark-blue depression and reverted to type, namely, withdrawing from society. it's been a hard slog back up that hill, and of course inbetweentimes, there's been the usual cancer stuff, new brain tumour and all. With a burgeoning teen in the house. It's been fun. sometimes.

Still, here we all are!

With a little help from our friends, not to mention patience, we're slowly rising above it all. Which is another way of saying that life is still tough, but not impossible. We get knocked down, we get back up again, we don't stay down for long. I suppose this is my way of saying that if I haven't been present on E2, for my friends and family, haven't been great at communicating, there's a reason. I'm returning to normal (whatever that is) slowly. But hopefully, surely.

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