Thanksgiving for Eight Kisses
In her journal The House by the Sea, May Sarton describes walking with her friend Judy and dog Tamas to the Maine shore in early December: “How glorious it was! Fifty-mile gusts of wind driving the waves in, and almost the highest tide on record . . . . It was like an answer to prayer, the outward storm playing out what might have become an inward storm had it not absorbed all the tensions, as it did.” Judy’s senility made her restless and difficult to manage, but the salt spray in their faces was a balm.
Some days are this way, the weather drawing humans into its bosom. With luck, slanting snow, for example, can blow the lid off of the blues and grant relief.
Then there’s Thanksgiving Day, 2020. In Erie, Pennsylvania, the weather is waiting. A pale gray sky waits for iron clouds to roll in. Wind bends bare branches, but promises to pick up soon and do damage. Sodden grass waits for sunshine, only to get soaked all over again.
I appreciate the climate’s camaraderie, but it’s powerless to abbreviate this fall’s waiting. Like my spongy lawn, I have to be patient. Some situations won’t budge until reality changes.
For the first Thanksgiving I can remember, the Coleman family won’t have a turkey dinner. The house lacks the savory scent that makes me float around as if in a joyful dream. No, we will have liver and onions (one of son Micah’s favorites), a soft Gahr’s hamloaf in pineapple sauce, and mashed potatoes. Don’t judge me. I’m healing from dental surgery, and wife Kathy approves this menu. We’ll save the big bird for a less contagious occasion.
The worst part is, no grandsons will descend upon us! Killian and Gavin are coughing and sniffling, as is our daughter Elena. The eldest, Cole, is in the clear. What grandparent wouldn’t trade a mountain of stuffing and an ocean of gravy for the chance to hug their children and rock grandbabies? But no amount of grousing kills germs, especially pandemic ones that now rush thousands toward eternity. So Kathy and I wait.
Election Day has come and gone, but the matter doesn’t feel settled. During this interregnum, that normally blessed calm between a presidential election and Inauguration Day, fussing and conspiracies roil the waters. So, again, we wait.
Whenever I get grouchy about wearing a mask or indignant about any of 2020’s wailing, whining and woe, I consider the American Civil War and World War II. I am a Rebel charging across a Gettysburg field for General Pickett or an Army infantryman of my parents’ generation glimpsing Omaha Beach in the distance. I bow to Rosie the Riveter and her sisters, whose lives were upended. They rolled up their sleeves.
“Somebody has it worse than I do,” my elders insist, while right now I drivel about an overcast holiday. Ha! No mortar shells are screaming my way. No officer in a crisp uniform with a chaplain at his wing is ringing my doorbell with devastating news.
If need be, I can wait months to hold my boys again. And the infamous COVID-19 mask? Well, if an 18-year-old can brave a hail of bullets, I can suffer fogged up eyeglasses. Some sacrifices outrank others.
Anyway, waiting and endurance are sages. May Sarton had a border collie, and the Colemans have a foxhound named Sherlock Holmes. Micah has been coaxing kisses out of him for two years. “Come on, you can do it,” he says daily, the two snout to snout.
Many months ago Micah smeared peanut butter on his nose and was rewarded with a solitary lick. When Sherlock came to us from a shelter, he brought along trauma—maybe a thrashing for the nerve to give kisses.
But the other day, our living room may as well have been Mount Tabor. “Come on, buddy,” Micah said. Then, tentatively, one kiss, and another, then more. “Eight!” Micah finally announced.
No “bright cloud covered” us, as in Matthew’s Gospel, but a troubled pet was transfigured. To hazard blasphemy, I believe that the grace at work was my son’s steadfast affection.
Like millions of Americans I regret this year’s depravations and try to take in its casualties. Still, I have an embarrassment of love to give me succor, so much food I have to decide what not to eat and a sleuthhound whose soul is on the mend.
So I grieve and give thanks at the same time. I’ll keep trying if you will.