My Village

It’s not looking well.

Words I hate to hear, especially coming from my father. This is a man who, given the option to sugar coat things, presents difficult information as a loving and tough fact. Since hearing these words a few days ago I am yet again, flooded with memories of her. 

I can see the mottled light in the forest behind her house, where I’d follow my brother and his friend who’s house we were dropped off at for the weekend. There is a pile of sand at it’s edge, and trucks that I adoringly drive around. She is hanging up the washing and on the line, and keeping a joyfully cocked ear to the chattering of boys. She gives a loving call out to me to ask what I would want for dinner, knowing full well but delight still in my answer: Han-ga-Burgers.

It became a long standing code word, representing this families loving remembrance of my time in and out of their house.

We have been blessed with our own village of friends in this city. My children look to our friends as aunts and uncles, neighbors and kin. Their children, a surrogate crush of extra brothers and sisters and cousins. Like the village I was raised in, the boys are given moments of neighborly love, a last moment ride, or a hangout to cover a gap in care. It’s what you do.

No more am I struck with this good fortune than when I go back home. I visit the cemetery, and sit and reflect. My eyes start to see the names on the stones around. One, A Friend of my brother. Another, a local business owner. Yet Another, a member of the congregation after who’s death I first learned of the word eulogy because of what my Father had to do in church. 

I sit in the chapel in the school. It’s big slanted beamed celling rising out of the darkness seems to be holding in the unusually cold air. For the first time since we moved to campus, I am there without the throngs of students squirming in the pews. It is silent and hard to focus. 

Please be doing well. I find myself saying it over and over. I say it right to her. I can hear her laugh, feel her tight hugs as she marveled how quickly I’d grown. 

I think of our close friends and how the younger one will run and give a hug to them. How I catch them looking adoringly at them run off and play. I think of the wonderful people that have cared for them as they have grown.

I remember my village and the people there that make up the threads of the quilt of my very soul. I can feel how they tug and pull, being stretched over time, and worn out with love. 

The email comes with a dull ache.

Tears.

Han-ga-burgers.

 

 

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While the Turkey Cooks

Thanksgiving never started out as my favorite holiday. A traditionalist as a child, I worshiped Christmas, and fervently argued with my brother about who got to open the advent calendar counting down the days. Somewhere along the way though, This day has wrenched the holly from my heart and taken root as my all time favorite day of the year.

I spent the morning waking early to the pattering of the youngest, and the adoration of my wife who has kindly remembered and reminded me of my love of this day for all the days leading up to it. I rubbed herb butter and trussed up the turkey in a manor that the Marquis de Said would admire. I look at the long table lined with glasses ready to be over flowing.

The high point of my childhood Thanksgivings, were always marked by the arrival of our closest kin. The family of three boy cousins who lived up the street and are closer in age to me than my older siblings. The eldest and I were unabashedly best friends, so any family get-together was bonus for us as we could escape as a pair. We would sit and watch the football game, steal as many snacks as possible, and retreat to my room and plot against his younger brothers.

I always try to get everything done the day before Thanksgiving, so that I can tune out stress and watch the action. I know family will suddenly start to fill our little home, the boys will amp up their volume, and the drinks will start to flow with ease. I have taken over the care of a good friends dog for the week. A black and white pit bull mix that loves our boys. He was adopted and raised in mexico, and responds to his masters commands in Spanish. Since I have no remedial Spanish to use with the animal, I have grown accustomed to him starring curiously as I say “record player” and “beer” over and over to him.

When it was dinner time, and my uncle had presided over a blessing, the group of us boys would be dished up and sent into the kitchen, where we would have our own space to celebrate. This consisted of; burping contests, making Thanksgiving Sandwiches, and putting various things in the youngest one’s glass of milk. This scene went on for several years until more of my siblings left the nest and more seats were opened up at the table for us.

The work of Thanksgiving is a happy thing. It is baking and chopping, smelling and wiping. It is getting a closet ready for coats, and looking for ties to wear. It is cleaning the bathroom, and re-cleaning it after the boys use it excitedly. There are arguments and second guessing about recipes, but there is kissing as well. It is the same work as a friendship. It is experimenting and learning, it is consistent and careful. It is failures and stress as well. But it is done with the goal of sharing, joy and above all, love.

It is why Thanksgiving became my favorite.

As we got older and would reconnect at Thanksgiving, the day became more about us than anything else. We would drink beer and watch the games, bother my mother in the kitchen by nibbling on foods, talk to adults and answer questions about college. We would have opinions about real things, fueled by our youthful know-it-all-ism. Then we would gorge ourselves at dinner, savoring every plateful, knowing we would nap it off on the couch or floor afterwords. But it was our favorite meal of the year.

And we would disappear together.

When he passed away five years ago on my birthday, I was so upset. He ruined my birthday, he missed out on meeting my second child. We would have no more Thanksgivings together.

As the years have rolled by, the settings of the table have changed. The faces have come and gone. Sometimes we make the Turkey, sometimes we go somewhere else. There is usually a stranger, someone solo, rescued from the pain of a lonely Thanksgiving, a tradition I inherited from my family and my Wife’s as well. And I sit and watch, I talk and laugh, and I eat.

But somewhere in my heart, I am stealing away with him and we are walking the property line. We are sipping on Budlite and having a cigarette. The afternoon sun does little to warm the air, but shines on the frosted fields making them blinding. The air is still, and the crunching of our footsteps echos off the trees. We talk, and laugh, or say nothing at all.

And we are Thankful.

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