Thanksgiving Day. Like much of the country I succumbed to the white noise of the football game and an overstuffed gullet and soon drifted off to sleep. I’m not sure what caused this dream, the oyster and corn casserole or the extra helping of “pink stuff” (a cream based cherry jello salad of family renown).
I remember waking up in our old house. “Hurry up sleepy head, the parade’s coming on soon,” I heard my mother yell. That woke me up real quick. Not that I might miss the famous parade but that I heard mom’s voice. Its been, five, no six years since she died. I found the bathroom but things were all out of perspective like the room had grown or I had shrunk. After splashing some water on my face I looked in the mirror. Gone was the fiftyish weathered face. Staring back at me was a much younger version of myself with tousled red hair and Batman pajamas. (Adam West’s Batman, not the darker modern versions.) “What the…” My voice! Even it had changed back to the higher register of pre-adolescence. I ran downstairs and into the kitchen.
“Well there you are sleepy head,” Mom said. Eat some cereal and then you can head to the living room, Super Sugar Crisps or Honeycombs?”
I stared at her for a few moments. Not only was I younger but she was as well. “Mom, um, am I dead?”
“Why of course not dear, whatever gave you that idea? Now, eat your cereal but don’t overdo it, you know we’re going to Grandma’s later.” Still trying to figure out what was happening to me I resorted to hiding behind a cereal box and pretended to stare at it in that not quite awake kind of way. I finished my bowl of Super Sugar Crisps. Wow, they were a lot sweeter than I remember. I saw mom check my bowl and glance at the clock. “Good enough, go turn on the TV for your brother and sister, the parade should be on Channel 25.
“Why can’t they turn on the TV for themselves, they know how to work a remote,” I asked.
“What are you talking about? Are you feeling alright?” mom asked as she felt my forehead. “You’re fine,” she pronounced. “Quit goofing off or you’ll miss the parade.” Feeling that I’d better keep my mouth shut I hurried to the living room. Laying on the floor staring at the blank screen were two younger children, I barely remember my brother and sister being that small. More frightening was the huge TV, I recognized it as the black and white we once had. It took me a few minutes to recall how to turn the thing on and dial in a station but soon the screen was dancing with clowns, balloons, and marching bands.
It was at that point that I suddenly remembered this particular Thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving that will live in infamy, at least in my mind. My brother Johnny was playing with my model airplane, a P-40. I had just finished putting the last decals on last night, including the cool one that looked like shark teeth. “Hey, give me that back,” I yelled. We both struggled over the plane until he lost his grip. I fell back, the plane flew from my hand, and bounced off of my sister’s forehead before smashing against the TV image of the Woody Woodpecker balloon. My brother ran to the kitchen, my sister lay on her back screaming as blood trickled from between her fingers.
The dream didn’t replay what happened next. As I remember it: Dad took my sister to the emergency room for a couple of stitches. Mom cleaned up the mess and finished making her pecan pie while Johnny watched the parade. I got sent to my room and spent the next couple hours seething over the injustice of the whole thing. Instead, the dream plopped me into my next big foul-up of the day.
Grandma’s Thanksgiving table was laid out in all of its glory. “Okay everybody,” grandpa began. “Let’s pause and give thanks. Before I say grace lets go around the table and say something that we’re grateful for, I’ll start. I’m thankful that you’re all here to share this day. Mama?” he said turning to grandma.
“I’m thankful that Danny made it back from Vietnam,” she said referring to my uncle.
“Amen,” the other adults answered. Eventually, it was my turn. I remember what came next. I originally blurted “I not thankful for anything, I hate my family for wrecking my plane and making me miss the parade, and treating me like it was all my fault when it wasn’t.”
“But dear,” Grandma began.
“Hush mom I’ll take care of this,” my dad grabbed me by the arm and marched me to the spare bedroom. The rest of the day was a blur of spanking, tears, and hunger.
But this is a dream, I can change this. Instead of my angry diatribe I offered, “I’m, uh, I’m thankful for grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, sissy and Johnny even if he did break my plane.” To which dad cleared his throat in warning.
“Are you finished son?” dad asked.
I paused and looked around the table. Images of their future and my past flash through my mind. Snapshots of joy and sorrow that I’ve already lived through but that they have yet to encounter. “Most of all I’m thankful for the love we share and will share,” I began. “I’m thankful for the life lessons that I will carry with me because of you all. I’m thankful that dad will not get upset when I wreck the Buick. I’m thankful that I will be able to pass this heritage, these good things, to my own children and grandchildren. I’m thankful for the happy times that we will share. I’m thankful for the support we will give each other in days of sorrow and loss. Finally, I’m thankful for our faith in Jesus that makes it all possible.”
As I finished I felt my brother poking my shoulder. I turned and heard a very deep adult voice coming from his young body. “Wake up sleepy head, the pies are on the table.” The dream faded into reality, the boyhood image morphing into that of my overstuffed but lovable truck driver brother of today.
“Thanks,” I offered.
“Your welcome I think. But why?”
“Just for being who you are and being there,” I answered as we walked to the kitchen.
“What kind of pie do you want? We have pecan, pumpkin, and black raspberry like grandma made?” my sister asked. Looking at her face I could still see the scar above her eyebrow. Walking around the table I gave her a hug.
“Sorry about the scar, that was all my fault.” I offered.
“That was ages ago, I barely remember it. Besides, it gives my face character.”
“You are a character sis,” my brother chides.
She shoots him a quick squint like mom used to and lets it slide for now, “well, which pie do you want?”
“You know,” I reply. She nods and hands me a big piece of black raspberry.