Happy Thanksgiving

This is the first Thanksgiving of my life spent un-grandparented. Not that we were always with Gram and Pop or Mame and Bob for the holidays, but they were omnipresent, even a couple thousand miles away. Since coming of age, I’ve laid holiday tables with place-cards, because of them. I’ve put on something pretty, hummed the Episcopal Doxology, and offered up gushing toasts. It’s what I know.

To their generation, most meals ranked highly enough for cloth napkins and fine manners; holidays elevated food and family to holy rituals, even when there was a cheeky hint of the sacrilege in the air. (My paternal grandparents hosted ‘fake church’– a bizarre fusion of biblical parables and grade-school drama club.)

In the context of meals-made-to-go at every stop-and-shop, this reverence is almost inconceivable today. Cooking everything from scratch? Provincial. Our grandmothers arrived at dinner with a wrapped index finger (onion-cutting accident) and a burnt wrist (trying to scrape the burnt sugar from the bottom of the oven before it stuck), but also a fresh application of lipstick and Chanel No. 5 behind the ears. Our grandfathers kissed their wives before carving into the big bird.

This year, without my multi-generational grounding, I ready my own family to carry our portion of the feast to a friends’ table. There will be 19 of us, an emphatically kid-heavy group sure to spill some cranberry sauce. My grandmother would approve. She possessed a spot-on sense of how to balance the divine and irreverent, the formal and relaxed. Would that I could phone her this morning for a recipe, and call back tonight with a report.

Instead, we’ll do today what millions do – piece together our own crazy quilt of inspiration and influence, and call it Thanksgiving. As whispers wrap ‘round tables laden with pasta or poultry, Beaujolais or beer – from neighbor to mother-in-law to uncle to friend. “This is what we’re thankful for…”

This I Believe

OK, I admit. I wrote on my electric typewriter until 1992 and I only liked vanilla ice-cream until Ben & Jerry’s came out with New York Super Fudge Chunk. Since then, life’s been a taste sensation.

Needless to say, I’ve dragged my feet heavily into blog land. Electronic, impersonal, time wasting. Shall I go on? Well, I’ve changed my tune. I’m thinking it’s an inspired way to keep a writing schedule with myself. Like college deadlines without the grades. (Really, don’t grade me. Please.)

I start today, with an essay I wrote for that NPR series This I Believe. The one that makes us cry on a weekly basis.

I love a good cry. I also love sisters. Read on…

I believe in Sisterhood. The kind with a capital S. The kind that is both intimate and global, that soothes sorrows and moves mountains. The kind that resonates, adding a choral quality to what might otherwise be a life of weak-kneed solos.

When we were young – tucked into twin beds in a small pink room – my sister and I made a game of trying to pull each other out of the covers and onto the floor. Typical squirreling around, except that once we were truly teetering on the edge of a fall, we’d whisper the word “undependable” quite urgently, and the other would stop pulling and start nudging her ‘opponent’ back up into bed. This cooperative twist extended the game indefinitely by preventing the crash that would have brought a parent upstairs with admonishments to sleep. It was both intuitive and instructive. It made utter and natural sense, and defined the sublime qualities one ought to look for in a sister.

I was gifted one sister by birth and have lucked into countless others along the way. With them, I rode the chair-a-lift at age nine… double- and triple-pierced my ears at age 16… rented ramshackle apartments at 20. With them, I road-tripped ‘cross county, waited tables, and summited 14,000 foot peaks.

The women I’ve marched with in political rallies, wept with over love and grief, slept with on European trains, Mexican buses and African mats? Sisters. The women whose weddings I was in, and those who came to mine? Sisters. The women with whom I’ve edited poetry and raised money and sat on school boards and worked with in staff meetings? The women with whom I’ve gotten things done? Sisters. And those who had babies when I did, whose babies had fevers when mine did, who feel some of the same impossible worry and joy that I feel as a mother? Sisters, all.

Now, on Tuesday nights, after work days are wrapped and children are tucked, I gather together with six other women. Among us, a clothing designer and dramatist, a photographer, fine artist, floral artist, and two writers. Among us, 15 children home in bed. A whole host of creative career arrangements and resourceful marriages and houses in need of repair. Among us, a serendipitous sisterhood so powerful that we’ve come to call it Goodness, with a capital G. It is in this community that we brainstorm and collaborate, weigh options, vent and celebrate. It is here that we are lifted up, back to a place of comfort, right when we are teetering on the precipice and feeling most ‘undependable’. Goodness reaffirms what I’ve known in my bones since my own sister was born – sisterhood sustains me.