The official start of Thanksgiving every year was not picking up the turkey and Libby’s pumpkin pie filling and canned cranberry sauce from Farmer Jack’s (as we called it back home). It was not the raucous bus ride home from school on Wednesday, the freedom of a four-day weekend spread out before us like a feast. It wasn’t even the America’s Thanksgiving Parade broadcast from downtown Detroit.
The official start of Thanksgiving was always the aroma of celery and onions sautéing in butter as my dad started cooking the stuffing for the turkey. It was better than an alarm clock or a nudge to the shoulder to draw me, groggy and pajamaed and rubbing my eyes, from my bedroom.
A lot of recipes start out that way, sautéing onions, celery, some herbs. But no matter what we’re making, no matter the time of year it is, that scent — heavy, sweet and ambrosial — always means Thanksgiving.
Jeff and Eric contemplate love, their future together, and the color of water, surrounded by friends and family in Minneapolis on Sept. 18, 2004.
Jeff and I recently celebrated the 8th anniversary of our commitment ceremony — let’s just say it: our 8th wedding anniversary — on Sept. 18. Sandwiched this year as it was between the unions of four dear friends, Mark Galante and Erik Sisco (Sept. 15), and Brian Dillard and Charlie Smith (Sept. 23, also my birthday), the anniversary was made even more special. September is getting to be quite a month!
It seems appropriate to revisit the sermon Jeff’s dear high school friend Mark Havel wrote for the occasion, on that bright and cloudless September afternoon, in Deming Heights Park, on the tallest hill in Minneapolis, the City of Lakes.
Sept. 18, 2004, is with me every day, and this sermon still makes me cry.
When Jeff and I began planning things for today—most of which happened over the telephone and by e-mail—he joked that somehow water was becoming a recurring theme for the occasion. The “flowing water of life” we just heard about in the poem by Rumi, and the “Wood Song” and “Water is Wide,” which we’ll hear in a moment, carry the theme pretty clearly. Jeff seemed to think it an appropriate motif to latch onto somehow, being in the land of 10,000 lakes and all. (Now I’m wondering if it had something to do with the shower at The Saloon …) I’m not going there, but I did decide to run with it, anyway.
And, the first thing that popped into my mind was the title of a book by James McBride called The Color of Water. It’s a book about a biracial boy growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, in New York and Delaware. He was raised by his eccentric, white, Jewish mother who converted to Christianity when she married his African-American, Christian father. Because of the time in and circumstances under which they lived, you can imagine that race and religion were very much a part of his coming of age and self-understanding.
And as he came of age, as he struggled with his identity, as he wondered about how and where he fit into the world around him, the boy asked his mother one day about what God’s spirit looked like. For me and for all the theology I’ve studied, his mother’s answer was as strange and as simple as it was profound. She said simply, “God’s spirit doesn’t have a color. God is the color of water.” Continue reading ‘Jeff and Eric’s wedding sermon; 9/18/04′
Sooner or later you reach a point where you have to sink so much money into your car to make it sellable that it’s worth just as much or more as a trade-in. And even if that’s not precisely true, it’s worth something to have someone else take it off your hands.
So Jeff and I drove to a suburban car dealer in a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and we drove home in a 2011 Honda CR-V.
When Jeff bought that Jeep in 2002 he joked, “It makes me look 30% sexier.” And he was right. It was true for anyone. It was a hot little number. Now we’re lulled into a need for reliability and comfort, room for groceries and, one day, room for a kid. Sturdy. Sensible. Soccer mom.
Mom and Dad had some presents under the tree early, the ones from them and Grandma and Uncle Dennis and Aunt Kay, but they were off limits until Christmas. The ones from Santa, of course, came later. I didn’t have to worry about those, but these were there to taunt me.
Most of them were clothes. Who cared, right? But some of them, the smaller ones, probably—the strangely shaped ones, right?—those were toys.
If I was good enough (if I begged and pestered my parents enough, nicely, gently), they would let me open one present—just one—before we left for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I don’t think they for one second expected me to not beg. I don’t think I ever convinced them of anything. I think they always had one intended for Christmas Eve. But it was one of those child-and-parent games we played. Continue reading ‘The 12 Ways of Christmas: midnight mass’
Dad always waited until Christmas Eve or, maybe if he was especially good, the day before, to wrap presents. He’d box everything up in the bedroom and drag it out to the kitchen table to wrap it up. Every box had a label in his own shorthand: the name of one of us and some code to help him remember what it was.
He had a fondness for putting boxes inside of other boxes to disguise the gifts, so we never knew what he had. And if it was the sort of box that could not be disguised, we’d hear from down the hall as he bounded toward the kitchen, “You kids’d better keep your eyes closed, dammit, or this it going right back to the store!”
Sometimes I’d be permitted to help him. He was very particular, so sometimes he didn’t want help. Usually I had something of my own to wrap, and as he had all the paper and supplies, it made sense to join him.
My dad always claimed he could match the pattern at the edge of the paper to the pattern on the side he was taping it to. That way the pattern wasn’t interrupted st the joint. It was a nice thought, but I never quite believed him. It just wasn’t possible unless the packages were the perfect circumference. Right? But he insisted. And I didn’t want to go through the trouble of proving anything. I know he took immense pride in his wrapping.
What he was really saying was that it mattered to him—a lot—that we all appreciate what he was doing. He wanted us to understand the work and care and effort, but also to marvel at the ease with which carried it all off. And I had no reason to discredit him. Continue reading ‘The 12 Ways of Christmas: wrapping’
This is disgusting to me now, but it would have delighted me as a kid.
It wasn’t December if my family and I were not driving around looking at other people’s Christmas lights.
We started in our own neighborhood, admiring the wild and colorful houses, and the simple monochromatic houses in white, gold, red, blue. In my little kid’s logic, I always assumed the blue houses must be Jewish. Or something. Just a feeling. I wanted to say so, but it seemed rude. I never knew any Jews growing up—at least none that I knew of.
My mom and I especially loved the ones that looked like gingerbread houses with sidewalks lined, every angle of the roof highlighted, doorways and windows lit. Our house should be like that. I studied them carefully as we slowly passed, making mental notes between audible gasps every time a new extreme came into view.
I really appreciated the people who did their trees. Those were the ones who really cared. Random placements among the branches were popular one year. Then our neighbors began to include the trunks, too. A few years later, a tightly wrapped cluster of lights on the trunk with a contrasting color densely filling up the branches was en vogue. Continue reading ‘The 12 Ways of Christmas: the lights’