Cousins, uncles, sisters and more gathering from near and far. The aroma of roasting turkey wafting from the oven. A noisy throng crowding the TV, cheering or booing each football exploit. The table fairly groaning under the weight of serving dishes and platters. And then come the choices: White or dark. Mashed or sweet. Pumpkin or apple.

Ah, the traditional all-American Thanksgiving scene. Just the kind of warm, comforting images that come to life on a Norman Rockwell canvas. As for my own holiday experiences? Well, they’ve been more suited to Norman Lear .

For starters: Growing up we seldom spent the holiday at home. My small family was scattered all over Oregon, so we gathered to celebrate in the middle of the state. “Over the hills and through the woods to Grandma’s house… ” was replaced by exit  174 on Interstate 5 for the Village Green Motor Hotel, where we were about the only guests. Substitute the grandparents’ table and fine china with eating our meal in a nearly deserted dining room, and you get the idea.

I’m not complaining, mind you. You can have your same-ol, same-ol long-standing traditions, thank you. Every one of my holidays has been unique and memorable in its own way. Like the year a momma cat and a batch of her kittens found refuge under the bed in one of our room. Or the year my drunken uncle kept calling our room in the middle of the night, trying to continue a silly family word game.

Fast forward to today and Turkey days are still far from the norm. As the only family members on both sides who live in the east, we exchange holiday greetings via cell phones, trying to match up the time zones and dinner times. 

One year I tried to light a seldom-used fireplace to bring a little warmth into the dining room — and proceeded to fill the house with billowing smoke. By the time the fire alarms had turned off the food was ice cold and the story of our  “Year of the Smoked Turkey’ was born.

Then there was the Thanksgiving dining at a historic Inn on the Delaware River. Three of us enjoyed an incredible meal….while I spent the next 12 hours learning the ins and outs of food poisoning. Mostly out, FYI.

All of this is just a long lead in to describe this year’s observance. Because in some ways it was more Rockwell and much less Lear. Unexpectedly, we enjoyed one of the warmest, family-oriented Thanksgiving I’ve ever spent. And in the company of near-strangers to boot.

As you’ve probably guessed, we spent the evening with Barb and Michelle, the IPs, and their family. I won’t go into a lot of detail about who, where and more out of respect for their privacy. But I don’t think they’ll mind me sharing our reactions and feeling before, during and after.

Honestly I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Michelle has had a lot more contact with the IPs during this process. I’m not sure this is a blessing or a curse but: My wife has the ability to establish and forge friendships quickly and easily. Her warm, open and friendly manner seems to almost attract like-minded people.

And I’m quite the opposite. (See the Ted Kaczynski reference earlier in this blog!)  Keeping my guard up is my default. I don’t open up and even feel comfortable around new folks. So this holiday invite was going to be a stretch for me.

Yet it was an assignment  that was looking forward to. Because, honestly, I’m still so very curious about our new friends — their history, their choices and their lives today.  Hopefully I’ll learn for the purposes of sharing more in this blog — but that’s their call, and in their timeframe.

Really it’s more about my own personal understanding of their world. I’ve been wrestling with an often-revised GuestWomb draft entry on my feelings about this unconventional arrangement.  A lot of my long held viewpoints are really breaking down from this self examination. I have a hard time explaining how I came to own these old attitudes and beliefs. My own lack of knowledge, experience and understanding to this lifestyle choice is quite telling. And yet I find myself more open — dare I say, more liberal — in my outlook these days. (Sorry, Dad.)

But Thanksgiving isn’t the time or place for a probing interviews, so I put my list of questions away.  Yet in a few short hours, I learned so much by just quietly observing and soaking up the atmosphere in Barb and Michelle’s new home.

End of Part 1

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