By Leonard Adame
November, usually a little gray, colder than the turkey in the fridge, the sun losing out to the grim overcast. Doesn’t matter. Soon the turkey will be in a warmer climate. Soon the oven’s heat and the turkey’s aroma will beat out the chill and gloom. The lamps’ multicolored glass shades will warm the room with prismatic light. The windows will sweat, and the furnace begins its battle against the winter weather.
All of us have waited for this day, remembering and re-tasting last year’s turkey, last year’s mashed potatoes saturated with garlic and butter, last year’s plump and tanned yeast rolls. Now the turkey, in the oven before day break, sends aromas to waken everyone, grandkids, mostly, little cherubs who miraculously are still and quiet as they yawn and slowly awaken in the dim light of November.
Soon they’ll be fighting for the remote: Sponge Bob or Caillou or iCarly? Soon my son and my daughter-in-law will arrive bearing ice cream and pumpkin pies and a couple of 12 packs. Soon the rest of the family will find themselves together again to feast and drink wine and reminisce about our parents, our uncles, our brothers, one older, one younger, none of them with us any longer. The silence of the morning has transformed into a rhythm, kids at times fighting for a doll or a candy bar or grandma’s personal attention: a hug, a kiss, some “I love you sweetheart!” A rhythm I’ve danced to for more than 60 years.
This is all almost Norman Rockwell. The difference is the volcanic salsa my sister brings, guaranteed to eat away your tongue. Delicious! The difference is the tortillas accompanying the bread, the guacamole next to the cranberry sauce. The difference is the furnace warming all of us equally, the TV now blaring football talk and replaying touchdowns and interceptions. The difference is we’re here, we’re alive, and we even like each other.
We miss those no longer with us, but somehow they mosey around us, invisible, but nevertheless there. We relate the stories of growing up under their care: the sibling squabbles that led to exile in bedrooms or, the worst, the threat of no turkey. Stories now classic about the monumental number of beer bottles overflowing two garbage cans outside. Stories about our grandparents singing Mexico to us, songs about that country and its idyllic ambience, songs about Dia de Los Muertos, songs about the grandeur, the hardened plains and canyons of Chihuahua and Parral, where my dad grew up.
From my mother’s side (her brothers and sons were and are), we recall La Sonora Matancera and Mariachis, especially Jorge Negrete, the operatic charro who sang songs of love that Neruda would die for, songs of loss, of seeing one’s woman with another in a cantina and whispering in his ear. Tales about my abuelo’s parents and their lifelong battle to grow enough food for all, sometimes losing that recurring struggle and therefore having to go to El Norte, that place with enough food for everyone, where everyone has a nice house, a car even, where everyone didn’t have to fear the police.
The songs, as the years passed for my grandparents, of course changed once they actually spent time in El Norte. The themes became violence at the hands of la Migra, at the hands of the Border Patrol, at the hands of racist servicemen beating Mexicans and Mexican Americans at the Sleepy Lagoon in Los Angeles. Soon the corridosi and baladas morphed into homages to the dead and lost in El Norte.
Even so, we are now grateful to be here, that El Norte has been our home since my generation’s birth. We have jobs, most of us, we have health insurance and Medicare, we have become senior citizens, a term I used to laugh at and made solemn promises to not ever become one.
There is more to the Turkey Day, of course, but though I’m thankful for my life and my relatives, even the ones I haven’t liked much, I think of those who have no place to call home, no furnace, no turkey aromas, no Peanuts-type kids flailing all over the house, breaking knick knacks and photographs and denying they did, each blaming the other. There are people who haven’t seen their relatives for decades, lost as they are in places far from their birth homes, places that mistreat them, places that slander them, disrespect them, see them as parasites, bums, burdens, as beings who always want something for nothing.
Even so, some homeless people say they are thankful for the handouts they get, for the politicians who ladle gravy on their plates at places that serve holiday meals. They’re grateful to be alive, as sick as some of them are, as cold as some of them are, as lonely as some of them are. And here in Fresno, a place where our mayor has been behaving like one of Hitler’s ministers lately, they are thankful even as their homes are bulldozed, as their few belongings end up in dumpsters (think about your own precious belongings: pictures, medals, favorite blankets, jewelry cheap or expensive, letters, toys from childhood, etc.), they are still thankful.
Maybe it’s human nature to feel thanks, to feel that by participating in a holiday, one is normal, even if it is for one day. Maybe human nature makes us want to be included somehow, even if dinner is served by strangers. I’m sure, though, it’s normal to want to be out of the cold on Thanksgiving, even if one knows that tomorrow the warmth, the smiling politicians, the hot food will be gone and that it will be another year before normalcy returns. Yes, there is Christmas, but that holiday may be worse: No Christmas tree surrounded by wreaths and presents bright as kids’ noses in winter. No Christmas cards telling them they’re missed and loved and to come over for dinner.
So as we, the “normal” people, good Christians all I’m sure, celebrate our good fortune, as we repeat the usual platitudes that say we love our relatives, should we remember those who do without nearly every day? But even if we remember them, isn’t there something we should do to stop Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s scorched earth policy against the homeless and offer these suffering people more than a little gravy on holidays? Shouldn’t we act on our Christian principles, not the Old Testament cruelty, but the ones that say it’s our duty to help those who can’t help themselves—no matter the reason?
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.