These days I sit in front of a light box in the mornings. It helps enough that I keep doing it. Angled just the right way and at just the right distance from my eyes, it starts out annoying and ends up almost pleasant. When I stop noticing it, that’s usually a sign that it’s time to turn it off. This will last until the days start noticeably lengthening and the thaw begins in earnest. You’d think the reflected brightness of all that snow would help a little more than it does.
I went spelunking in an old diary looking for a piece I once wrote on Thanksgivings, which are of course very different since I came to Canada. There is a Thanksgiving holiday here, but it’s anticlimactic—just another Monday off for most people, not that we don’t enjoy those in this house. For anyone who worked retail all through college, Thanksgiving is the last day of normal life (and normal shift-lengths) until after the gift-return rush in January.
We started when I lived in State College. Mimosas in the morning, Thanksgiving parade tinny and loud, the thumping of a flour-sack towel against a turkey breast, careful salting, calls home to my grandmother, the cozy warmth of an ugly rental kitchen that had always hosted reheatings, not holidays. It was an excuse for me to cook for someone else, and an excuse not to make trans-state drives on treacherous November roads. We would have to work early the next day; if the mall opens at seven, you’re there at six-thirty, straightening shoes on lucite pedestals and making sure the shelves are packed with merchandise. Driving three hours for dinner and three hours back the same day just wasn’t worth it.
Mel wouldn’t touch my stuffing, but she loved my turkey, filling up on it and salting it heavily. (She salted everything heavily, that girl; she did everything with abandon. Any day could have been her last and she’d not regret a thing.) Afterward, we went downtown and caught a movie, covering our ears with out hands, stopping the cold not at all and freezing our fingers. We went to bars where we could skip the cover, dance to Abba, drink experimental cocktails, and pretend the next day wasn’t only hours away.
We kept the tradition for years, even after we left retail. Other people joined us, too, savoring my stuffing and pumpkin pies. In Lock Haven, in another tiny apartment with another terrible kitchen, with Christian helping me peel potatoes and calling me Kimberly. In Athens, in my bright and sunny kitchen, hardly a cloud in the sky. Phil came from Pennsylvania and Dan from New Hampshire, and by that time Mel was already in Georgia, too, all of us hundreds of miles from home and family. And then one more Thanksgiving; in Gainesville, just before I had my last two wisdom teeth removed, I cooked for the gang one more time in her tiny kitchen. Afterward I slept, full of painkillers, in her loft bedroom while they went to the Mall of Georgia to be consumers themselves instead of retail slaves.
After that year, I went to the reservation, where it’s hard to get excited about Thanksgiving. And after the southwest, I came here. I haven’t had a Thanksgiving that made me feel that good this century, dears. And that’s okay, it really is. Everyone loves their childhood Thanksgivings—over the river and through the woods, and all that—and nothing replaces my grandmother’s turkey, gravy, and stuffing. These on-my-own holidays were different. The food was great, but it wasn’t the point of the day. It was one time of the year we said overtly what we lived the rest of our lives, which was that we were a family by choice, braided together just with love instead of DNA.