Thanksgiving is a holiday that has no hardened traditions
for me. When I was young, I would
nag my Dad to take me to the Lions game so I could avoid the kitchen
drudgery. My Dad took me because
no one wanted to sit in the frigid Briggs Stadium. I never learned how to make
turkey or pies. And there were still the dishes to wash-by hand. This took hours, since Mom had a
technique for protecting her good china and silver that was work
intensive. Now I have those
dishes- 27 dinner plates, one for each adult and child in Mom’s extended
family. Know what? They look as
beautiful as they did when Mom registered for them. Last winter, it was one of my machinations to delete
Replacements, Ltd. from Dad’s e-mail on a weekly basis; he had announced his
intention to sell the china back rather than store it. When we emptied Dad’s
house, my siblings must have remembered the hand washing: the place settings were
orphans. Like The Little Prince
said, once you love something, you are responsible for it. Now I hold the vestiges of Joliat
holidays in my hands. I may give
the china to Mike and Kathryn- if they love them, and will hand wash them- and
I just may serve Christmas dinner upon them.
The year Mom died was the last time the giant, knotted
Joliat family all migrated to Detroit.
We worried about Dad, one month from losing his Elaine. I worried that my family would observe
my lack of any cooking skill. I
rolled out of Dad’s guest room early in the morning, to help get the stuffing
assembled. There was Dad, tearing
a giant tub of bread he had dried out, and adding it to his chopped celery and
onion. The neck and giblets were
bubbling in a pan, and his bird waited for its dressing. The man had never had to touch a pan in
his life, but he had things well in hand.
He showed me that life resumes, changed but supported by tradition and
Last year, Dad had almost the whole family in Detroit, and
my brother orchestrated tickets to the Lions game one last time. The game
promised to be another Lions rout, but Dad looks joyful. He was backtracking a tradition he had
enjoyed with his own brother when he was a young man. It was a good day; we missed it.
Without Dad this year, the Joliats have scattered and sought
a celebration without sad echoes.
Jenny is at Disney World with grandkids. Mike is in Florida, trying to heal his heart and leg after
the bypass surgery of October.
Judy stayed home in Chicago, to nudge her son in his college quest and
cheer on Maine South as it continues its football season. Paul will be greeting his son’s
homecoming from West Point, and he will host the holiday dinner for Marie, who
will also remain in Royal Oak. I
think we all absorbed Dad’s example, and want to demonstrate that life goes on-
changed, but still rich beyond belief.
To that end, I am here in Maui, with my life’s greatest
treasures- Steve and my family. I created “tour shirts” to immortalize the week, and I will nag my family for a photo-op which they will grant me after I beg and cajole enough. To get to paradise, we drifted through an airport
teeming with soldiers- heading home, heading out. They were younger than my sons, and my heart filled with
hopes for a peace that would bring families together without the boots and
fatigues. Some families have
larger holes in their holidays.
There are legions of things to be grateful for, and many of
them germinated in my roots-the Joliat family. I have known the safety of family security and love in my
parents’ marriage. I have always
had food to eat; scrambled eggs and lumberjack (pancake) dinners never seemed like ways to stretch
a budget, they were adventures. My
parents postponed all luxuries, and lived modestly so they could pay our
tuition at Catholic elementary and high schools. They encouraged us to read. They sent us all to college, and expected us to repay their
sacrifice with strong work and an intense work ethic.
Mom and Dad had
a balancing act going in the 50’s and 60’s- we were a big brood in a small
home. They had a unique
system-there was no demonstration of unconditional love, though we knew it was
there. We had to earn their
attention and praise through service and accomplishment. When Mom arrived home from the grocery
store, we would descend like drones to help her put the goods away. If she was out , we would clean
cupboards, do laundry or set the table just so we could give her the “ta-da”
that would bring us her approval.
When we got jobs, we would use our money to buy Mom a treat. We would evaporate rather than get a
bad report card. If Mom arched her
eyebrow at us, we knew we were on thin ice and shut our mouths. It worked like a charm, and to this
day, I cannot figure out why I did not incorporate it into my Dahl world. I am a pushover: my boys have turned
out to be wonders of my world, but it is a happy accident. I am the most deconstructed Joliat. After I moved to Chicago, I never even
sorted my silverware in the drawer until Mom and Dad came to visit me, and I
knew I would get that arched brow.
Today I am up before the family, and it gave me this time to
give thanks for my past and my present, and to hope for a future that will
reveal its blessings. To the last
week of his life, Dad would proclaim that he was “tip top” -even as a walk to
the kitchen would require a rest.
But he was “tip top”- because his life was rich with love. Every moment holds a miracle. On this day, I hope that all of my
family, friends, and anyone visiting here allows their blessings and miracles
to come into focus, and their challenges to fade. Happy Thanksgiving. Mahalo and aloha. I hope you are all “tip top”.