The Thanksgiving Cruise

The Thanksgiving Cruise
copyright 2012

“I don’t think I’m going to have Thanksgiving at the house this year… It’s just gotten to be too much work.” I took the phone down away from my ear and looked at it suspiciously. My mother, on the other end of the phone was apparently offering to surrender the family tradition of Thanksgiving Dinner to someone else. Thanksgiving at my parent’s house has evolved with our family. Through the years this holiday has ticked off the changes in all our lives. My sister and brother and I had become adults, of a sort, adding spouses, kids and grandkids of our own to the list. And although the circumstances of our lives have changed along with our cast of characters, once a year we still sit down together and marvel at each others well entrenched quirks while Mom provides us with the same delicious dinner, the same sides, the same way, year after year at the same house.

“Are you sure Mom?” I asked. She sighed. “Yes… I think so.” I thought for a moment… just not long enough of a moment, and then suggested “Hey… how about we all go on a Thanksgiving cruise!” Long story short, the entire extended family was soon booked on a 5-day cruise to Mexico or somewhere… I don’t know. (As it turns out, that part wasn’t important… what was important is that it was my fault.)

Months later, there we were aboard ship. And at our appointed time, all thirteen of us met in the main dinning area at our carefully pre-assigned table for ten. For a long moment, we just sat there, elbow to elbow, awkwardly squirming in our formal wear and looking at each other. Then “it” began. I picked up a small cup of whipped butter, smelled it and made a face. My very proper and polite sister, Julie was predictably concerned. “What’s wrong?” she said sweetly. (Excellent!) I smelled it again… then held it out to her. “Does this smell alright to you?” Julie, with her perfect little pointy nose, bent over to take a whiff. As soon as she did, I shoved the cup straight up…cramming butter in her nostrils. “ARGGGH!” She yelled as she searched frantically for the napkin that I had hidden from her. The kids and I all laughed hysterically as Lori calmly handed Julie a napkin and looked at me with that “really?” look.

My mother though, was busy checking out the arrangements. She looked back and forth a little nervously and for a moment I thought she was going to go back into the kitchen and take charge. “Are you all right mom?” I asked. “Oh… (she paused)…yeah.” It hadn’t occurred to me, but this was probably the first Thanksgiving in about 45 years that she was sitting instead of cooking. She was obviously feeling a little out of place.

But then, without missing a beat, my brother Tim came to the rescue. He finished off his fourth piece of bread and then explained in detail how he had made the origami towel creation that the cabin attendant had left on his bed… anatomically correct. Tim chuckled as he watched everyone around the table react to his famous brand of “shock and ugghh…” humor. “As usual my mom just giggled and said “Oh Timmy!” I could tell that we were almost in full Thanksgiving mode. Then my Dad called the waiter over. “Buddy!” (His name wasn’t Buddy) “Yes Messier?” the very French waiter replied. Dad proudly looked around the table at the family that he had created and provided for…his living legacy. Arms outstretched, he proudly ordered… “Bring us a bottle of your cheapest wine!” Thanksgiving was here at last.

On the way out of the restaurant that night, my Dad and mom hugged us all and as we were heading off to our rooms my Dad took me by the arm and pulled me close. “The turkey wasn’t as good as your moms. Next year… our house!” My Dad loved Thanksgiving Dinner, but he loved it “Mom’s way.” And that was that.

Our lives have continued to change since that Thanksgiving Cruise. My Dad has passed on and we’ve all taken on different jobs and different responsibilities in our lives. But at my mom’s house this year… she will work all day cooking, my brother will tell stories and jokes to his nephews and niece; my sister will dutifully help mom with the dinner and I will try to get her to fall for the butter in the nose trick again. And as laughter fills the house we will sit down together and remember Dad’s Thanksgiving Blessing…”For what we are about to receive may we truly be thankful… Pick up and eat!”

A Fish Tale

Yesterday, I was standing in front of the building on Old 41 where I grew up. What used to be our family’s Hardware store on the first floor is now a bakery. The second story, where we lived for many years, is now abandoned. The building has been remodeled several times over the years and doesn’t look much like it did, but somewhere on the face of the building, beneath the layers of paint, is a beautiful 10′ tall painting of a fish jumping from the water.

In 1960, my father had an artist paint what was essentially the “Heddon” fishing lure logo above the bright red “Nelson’s Hardware” sign and for decades the bass, with fishing lure hanging from its wide open mouth, remained there high in the air between mine and my sister’s bedroom window, watching the world slowly go by on the Tamiami Trail. It watched as drunken cowboys threw each other out of the windows of the Dome; As long lines of traffic sat waiting for the matinee at the dog track; As hurricane Donna rolled a house past our front door; As my father fearlessly ran off a drunken man who was threatening his employees with a shotgun.

And between these more interesting times, it patiently observed our normal everyday activities as my sister and brother and I grew up. Every morning before school, we went down stairs into the hardware store to “take the stuff out”… which was what we called pushing, pulling and riding all the lawn mowers, bicycles and anything else with wheels that had been crammed into the store overnight, out the door onto the concrete patio out front. Day after day, year after year, we took them outside and then nine hours later we took them back in through the front door beneath the fish. It watched. It watched as we became teenagers and then adults, as one by one we left home and the safety of its wide-eyed gaze. Then, as if to signal that its work was complete, my father painted over it… and it was gone. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Life was happening… jobs, marriage, and kids. My sister moved to New Jersey, my parents built a new house off of Terry Street and my brother and I built homes of our own, as keeping the ground floor of the old building rented became my Dad’s favorite project. But upstairs, our old home remained vacant.

About eight years ago, I tried to talk my dad into selling the old building so my parents could be secure in retirement. The timing and the prices were right, so at a meeting, after he had informed a group of potential buyers to name an as yet higher number for the fourth time, I took him aside. “What are you doing Dad?” I asked sternly at low breath. My dad smiled a mischievous grin and whispered. “I don’t want to sell it… I just want to see how high they’ll go!” I got flush with anger. I didn’t understand. “Cut them loose Dad… This isn’t right!” And I walked away.

Later that day I was still stewing (it’s a Nelson art form), but I had promised to take him to get his truck, so I drove quietly, him sitting next to me. Finally he broke the silence. “I can’t sell it. It’s my legacy. I want it to live on for my children.” I looked over at him. He was looking out the window… avoiding eye contact. “Dad… WE are your legacy. You created us, watched after us and built us as surely as you built that old building.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Sell it and you and mom spend it having fun. Julie, Tim and I are going to be fine because of what you taught us.” It was a touching moment… But he still didn’t sell it.

Now, three years after dads passing, I’m standing here trying to help manage some of my dad’s legacy… this old store, and my tendency to become irritated. That’s when I suddenly realized that somewhere unseen, under the paint, the fish was still there watching over me. I sighed, put both hands on top of my head and started to contemplate where to start the repairs… I looked up at the sky and chuckled. For somewhere unseen, under that painted sky, I was sure that my dad was still watching over his legacy as well.