Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Setting for Twelve

The best part of holidays is what they do to time: make it fold and collapse like an oriental fan. The past and future are brought closer to the present. One Christmas becomes every Christmas; this year's Thanksgiving touches on every other Thanksgiving... Dressing the turkey, setting the table, I'm conscious not only of how it raises memories from previous years, but also of how this day will resurface next year and the year after that. Feeling the continuous strand connecting that time, this time, and the next run through your hands is both soothing and sobering. It makes me quiet. In the kitchen, I linger too long over things that should be done quickly; I'm with other people, other times...

Two -- no, three years ago I was in Britain for Thanksgiving. There's a campaign in London to civilize the masses by displaying poetry in the Underground. Riding the Tube back from SOAS to make it home in time to start the turkey cooking in our tiny East End flat, I sat across from the following poem by W.S. Merwin:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

I don't think I'd ever read anything so beautiful or so true to the moment; the dim lighting reflected in the windows and the slightly melancholic swaying of the passengers, just out of sync with the subway car, underscored the sentiment. Suddenly, that day became Thanksgiving for me. Maybe holidays wouldn't be as meaningful without absence.

This year, I volunteered almost on a whim to cook a full turkey dinner for my NIV unit. Over a month ago, before I went to the hospital, some of the FSNs and I had been talking about where to find Halloween pumpkins, and I mentioned that I'd once used jack-o-lantern pumpkins to make pumpkin pie from scratch -- for Thanksgiving in London. Oh? they turned to me with eager faces. The next question seemed to follow logically: Would you all like to join me for Thanksgiving this year? Why, yes they would. Sara and Heather acted as hostesses while I hung back in the kitchen fussing over mashed potatoes and stuffing. So many people all at once makes me shy, though I was glad that everyone had come. Sara seemed surprised that I'd rather stay and work in the kitchen than come out and interact with the guests; she doesn't understand that its hard for me to deal with the memories and the people all at once. Peering through the glass front of the oven while stirring greenbeans on the stove, the empty kitchen felt as crowded as the London subway car -- my sister and brother-in-law, my friend from A-100, my flatmates in Britain, my neighbors in Hawaii and all the other people I'd shared this event with in the past were there, too. The turkey took longer than it was supposed to, as usual, so I was able to hide in their company for an extra half an hour.

Rather than say a prayer before eating, I asked the guests to go around the table and tell what they were thankful for. Health and family figured prominently. I told them how grateful I was to be able to share this time with my colleagues (and it's true), but was thinking also of the memories still standing in the kitchen. Over dinner, one of the senior FSNs told me that in her 25 years at the consulate, no one had ever cooked a Thanksgiving meal for them. I'm glad I could rectify the situation. The food turned out wonderfully, better than I could have hoped for; some of them were trying turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberries all for the first time. It's a high bar for next year. It's a good memory for next year.


Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you, Katie, for thinking of others and following through with good intentions. I'm glad you had a good T-day!


Anonymous said...

PS-Yes, the absences count, sometimes the most of all.

Mrs. Wrye said...

I love you Katie. I think of you often <3

Mike said...

A wonderful post...

Sharon said...

Wow, you put into words exactly what I felt this year. My favorite Thanksgiving is still the one we spent with you and your family.
Another thing I like to think about is the countless Thanksgiving dinners which have been prepared at our "historic" home. What is the little girl who ate turkey prepared in my kitchen sixty years ago doing today?
Can't wait to see you THIS month!!

Kaz said...

Your writing, overall, is so enjoyable to read... but this post is just beautiful.