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They say that sometimes, when it rains, turkeys will venture out to the middle of a field and stare, transfixed and lemon tinted beak open, at the sky. They say that sometimes, if they aren’t stopped, these clueless little birds will continue to stare at those specks of H2O until, eventually, they drown in the rain.
I used to think about Thanksgiving during summer sometimes, on those hot lazy afternoons all those miles away from the rest of my family. I’d imagine, the sun beating down on me and the sweat dripping off, a giant turkey with all the fixin’s. I’d imagine mac and cheese and mashed potatoes, three and four courses too many. There’d be my grandpa at the front of the table carving the turkey, my dad next to him smiling. My mom and grandma would look on, proud of their great bird, and we’d all eat together as a family.
Thanksgiving was never a day to be thankful for, not at my house.
One year, back when the kids menu was the only menu and there was no discussion about my playing in a play pen, I slept all Thanksgiving day. I figured, if I slept the day away then I could wake and run downstairs and there’d be that great bird, and my family all around it.
Around sun down I awoke, and got half dressed before running downstairs and into the kitchen.
What I found was someone’s spilled apple juice on the floor. The stove was unused, and there, in the center of the table where I had imagined the turkey, there was nothing but bills.
That night, for Thanksgiving dinner I ate half a leftover hamburger, and applesauce out of a plastic cup, my mom asleep on the couch in the other room.
I never said what I was thankful for out loud that year.
When I was a kid, I’d always swap stories with my friends about who had the worst holiday, or the best. We always knew who was getting what for the holidays, and whose mom gave out the best candy on Halloween or had the best snacks after school.
I had this one friend whose dad was a pilot of the military, and made a killing in stocks. This friend, he’d always tell us stories about three and four course Thanksgiving dinners, about butlers and maids and two turkeys, and how it would never be just him and his father, but they’d always have his step mother, and extended family from both sides.
It would be my friend, his two half sisters and baby brother, uncles and aunts and cousins and sometimes, the maids and butlers would join in too, but it was always a pretty big deal.
Even his real mom was invited, he use to say. He’d use to tell us how every year she would respectfully decline, but how every year his dad would send her an invitation anyhow, as if hoping she’d make an appearance.
After this friend got done telling us about his great feast, and all the other kids went home, I asked him how it was to celebrate a real Thanksgiving, with a real turkey and family and all that.
He just looked at me, and said that it wasn’t Thanksgiving, not for him. It was something else.
He said that they’d always have this big dinner, make this real big deal a few days before Thanksgiving, because his dad always had to do some big thing for the military soon there after.
Everyone got all dressed up and pretended to have a good time and all that, but none of it was real. They were all just rehearsing for when the real day actually comes. Not even the turkey was real, he said.
Fakesgiving, he called it.
And then he said that, from the kids table, you see a lot that, according to him, you get blinded from as an adult. He said that everyone had this forlorn look to them, like they were all just waiting for something else to happen, like they were all just so bored, and when they all said what they were thankful for, they weren’t really thankful.
He said that after the sixth or seventh course, when everyone was mingling about talking about so and so’s dress or new car, he would spot his dad out on the terrace, with a picture of his mom. He’d hold it close to his chest, and stare up at the night sky, as if transfixed. He’d stare as if in those little pinpoints of light, those impossible stars, he could see truth.
He said that it was like his dad would stare forever and even if it rained it would be ok because, at that moment, nothing mattered.
Just like a turkey before Thanksgiving, he knew he was already doomed.
A moment later, he said that his dad would snap out of it from a slap on the back and a talk about golf. He said that his dad would go back to being dad, distant and forlorn.
Later, after we had already grown up some, he would tell me that he knew his father best on those Faksgiving nights, when not even drowning in the rain could phase him. He said that that’s how he wanted to remember his father.
I thought it very sad that this friend would forever remember his father staring up at the stars, waiting to drown in the rain.
The following year my extended family made the eight hour drive for Thanksgiving dinner. The kitchen was a declared battle ground, as she and my father took turns chain smoking and cooking.
That night, we all sat around the table with my grandfather at the head, about to carve the turkey. There was mac and cheese, and potatoes, and my family all smelled like smoke from my parents, but they were there.
As my grandfather went to carve the turkey, I took a look at that helpless bird lying in the center of the table, and all I could see was the face of my friend’s father, mouth open and staring at the stars.
All I could imagine was this turkey, in some farm on the other side of the world walking out of it’s farmhouse and into the middle of the field just as the first raindrop let down. I could imagine it tilting its tiny head back, and opening its beak as the rain began to pour, and it began to lose everything.
And as I watched my family scarf down in a matter of minutes the meal that my parents had prepared for hours, the meal that I had imagined for years, I asked my self what I was thankful for.
The answer didn’t lie in world peace or health. What I was thankful for was that turkey, that martyr and all others like it who sacrifice their own happiness so that we may know a moment’s peace.
Sure, it was just a dead turkey, frozen and meat packed, born and bred with the sole intention of becoming someone’s Thanksgiving Day meal.
But that could be said about all of us.
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