Cars line the dark, shining street like the mounded banks of a long and winding river. Shadowy remains of the latest rain still coat the asphalt of the steep driveway, and the blackish-brown house before us stands alight like some giant jack-o-lantern—a flickering, orangey glow beckoning to us from every window. The silhouettes of all manner of family members already cavorting inside play like candle-lit spirits through the crisp night air, carrying the jovial din of warm voices, clinking glasses, and running children.
“You look so pretty!” Coos one of my cousins as she wraps her arms around me in the foyer and plants a kiss to either side of my face—an energetic woman of my mother’s generation, and the gracious hostess of our annual Thanksgiving tradition.
She is referring, of course, to the denim and flannel hooded-dress monstrosity picked out for me by my mother, and the enormous fourth-grade glasses plastered firmly to my small nose.
To our right, my lenses clarify for me the edges of a long, cloth-covered oak table—three, in fact—all crammed into the dining room in a barely successful attempt at accommodating the vast numbers of children and adults who will soon be occupying each seat, eagerly awaiting the grandest of home-cooked meals. Small orange pumpkins and yellow-green gourds populate the table-tops, interspersed with my cousin’s long-houred handiwork of little ginger-bread men and women who diligently watch over every family member’s calligraphic, hand-made place-cards. Such care and talent only an art-school graduated housewife could achieve.
Left-ward sprawls an ornately decorated sitting room, complete with grand piano, crackling fireplace, and antique chandelier… My nine-year-old senses have never quite gotten used to such decadence, and I find myself staring at the small children prancing through the room in their holiday best, as if watching some fairy-tale storybook unfold before my very eyes.
We are in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: hilly country where they carve treacherous intersections into the sides of small mountains—vastly different from the more familiar flatlands of cornfield Michigan. My mother’s family lives out here on the east coast—all of them, all 30-some of them. They are all Jewish, and they all love food. (I am allowed to make sweeping generalizations, because they are my family. :D)
We don’t celebrate Christmas, nor are many of us really that religious, which also leaves the High Holidays rather bereft of national family involvement. Therefore, [obsession with food]+[major family-wide holiday]= Thanksgiving. Thus: a family tradition is born.
Every year, my mother, my sister and I travel from the Midwest to the East Coast in order to take part in this family tradition—every year we see more faces than would be humanly possible to remember, and every year we eat so much good food that it is nearly impossible to squeeze back into the miniscule plane seats for our ride home.
Every year I am greeted thus, with small bouts of variations on the theme: recently, now that I am in my twenties, the favorite has become, “You look so grown-up!”
…Perhaps in reference now to my eyeliner, and more autonomous fashion choices?
Or perhaps my gradual transformation into adulthood from oblivious elementary-school geek, catalogued in the memories of my family members through annual Thanksgiving installations, has in fact come to a turning point. What will I be this year? Will I be a “grown-up”—or merely look like one?
Will I engage my family in the discussions they need to have? Will I contribute positively to our collective family knowledge of the world and our places in it? Or will I allow myself to be swept benignly back into the temporary fairy-tale?—Content simply to eat and drink and be merry, watching the gilded storybook continue to turn its aging pages of blissful ignorance?