Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Giving Thanks

As I didn’t grow up here, celebrating Thanksgiving was at first somewhat of a mystery to me. At 18 I was invited to a fellow student’s home in Los Angeles and I remember being amazed by the amount of food many of her overweight relatives were able to eat. Nobody bothered explaining the meaning of the holiday, but it obviously was a time for a family gathering and lots of food. Naturally I wanted to learn more and read the usual stuff about the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and Natives. That made even less sense to me, since I was well aware of the brutal deeds done to this country’s original inhabitants by immigrants of European ancestry. Of course, in time I learned to celebrate the day. Being thankful for a good harvest obviously no longer applies to most people , but I tried to find other reasons for gratitude. Some years it has been more difficult than in others. Deaths of beloved ones have happened close to the holiday. It is also hard to be thankful for people trying to destroy one’s life and career, just to save their own neck under a threat. But my hardships have been nothing compared to those of families whose loved ones have sacrificed their lives or health in a terrible, senseless war, whether in Vietnam or in the Near East, or to those sick, homeless and living in poverty.

This year the real Thanksgiving happened a few days later than the calendar indicated. Of course we had a lovely holiday on Thursday, but then Mother Nature gave us a rare gift in the form of a real winter. The last time it has been this cold and snowy at the end of November was on our first Thanksgiving in this house 21 years ago. My late mother-in-law had come up from California and she was babysitting our three Boston terriers, while my wife and I took a long walk over the Ballard bridge and enjoyed the crunching sound the cold snow made with each step. Today became an unexpected holiday as Seattle schools were canceled, including the college down the hill from us. My daughter Anna is enjoying even more of a winter wonderland at WWU in Bellingham (see picture) where snow is more than plentiful but air is also dangerously frosty.

A real present came yesterday when my wife unexpectedly found a letter from my late mother, which she had written in early 1985. I instantly recognized her unique, strong handwriting and felt her strong presence while reading what she had to say. It made me realize that our beloved ones can still be very much part of our lives after their bodies have ceased to function. Love of my mother radiated from the two pages and I marveled her intellect and penmanship. What a far cry that powerful personality was from the later years when she fell victim to Alzheimer’s. We didn’t always agree on everything, but my mother had stronger moral principles than anyone, and she never failed to stick with what she believed was right and correct, even if it meant difficulties in her life.

My mom would share the joy my daughters continue to give me. Never pushed into anything, they have all managed to excel in their respective fields. A week ago, we got our little one’s first demo cd in our hands. Although we had secretly wished for her to concentrate on her violin, she wanted to prove to us that she is a true nightingale. I can see my mother smiling, listening to her barely 14-year-old granddaughter sing her own song like an angel, immaculately in every way. There is another blessing I would have never guessed coming my way.

Photo Anna Talvi