The first time Kyle had Thanksgiving with my family, he was surprised we didn’t mention the Pilgrims. He said he thought “generic white folk” would talk about the Pilgrims.
Years later, I asked him why he’d thought that. He told me that when he was in grade school they’d trace their hands on construction paper and draw turkeys, and make Pilgrim figures out of construction paper. I did that when I was in grade school; maybe you did, too. But the Pilgrim figures they made didn’t look like him. He assumed that making those figures was for the benefit of white kids. He thought the Pilgrims must be important to us.
When he told me this, I was sad to hear him say that he had to do something that didn’t mean anything to him. In a world so much where so much is for the benefit of white people.
Writing about this now, I wonder if the “generic white folk” where he lived would actually talk about the Pilgrims on Thanksgiving.
When Kyle arrived at my parents’ apartment that first Thanksgiving he spent with my family, my dad asked him to move some furniture. My dad would have thought that that was purely practical. He and my mom had just moved into the apartment, and they couldn’t move the furniture downstairs themselves. So why not enlist the help of Louise’s friend Kyle?
I didn’t know about this until Kyle emailed me that evening (I was living in Baltimore at the time). Kyle told me he thought it was weird. His family would never ask a guest to move furniture! I think I apologized on my dad’s behalf. But Kyle said that in a way it made him feel more welcome. More like one of the family than a formal guest.
At the time, when I offered that Kyle could spend that Thanksgiving with my family, it didn’t even occur to me to ask him if he was okay with spending the holiday with a family of white people he didn’t know; I just wanted him to have a place to go when he’d only been living in Seattle for a month and a half. When I started working on this memoir, I thought to ask him. He said he was used to being around groups of white people he didn’t know.
Three years after that first Thanksgiving Kyle spent with my family, in November 2001 my dad died. He died two days after Thanksgiving. Kyle told me that he thought my dad had looked tired that Thanksgiving Day. And my mom told us that my dad had had a burst of energy the day before he died, which is common apparently. I remember that when my sister called me that Saturday morning to tell me our father had died, when I finished talking with her I went to find Kyle. He heard me crying and came to find me. He held me while I cried.
The first thing my mom wanted to do that day was move the bed that she and my dad had slept in down to the basement and bring up the twin bed. Kyle said he didn’t want to come over to the apartment and intrude on our grief. I must’ve said something like, don’t be silly, you’re part of the family. Besides, we wanted him to… you guessed it, move furniture again! My mom really likes Kyle, so she was glad he was there.
For several years after my dad died, Thanksgiving was a hard time of year for me. I’d always think about how Thanksgiving Day was the last time I saw my dad.
I made the day harder for myself by preparing a full Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, dessert, biscuits cause Kyle wanted them, something else cause my mom wanted it, gravy cause I thought we needed to have it. After I observed my mother-in-law in her kitchen, I learned how to relax when I was cooking. But at the time, I’d tire myself out so much that I wouldn’t enjoy dinner. So I told my family that we could have the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but I wasn’t going to cook it anymore. If I was cooking, it’d be something simpler.
So now we have chicken gumbo, or beef stew, or Yugoslavian beef and pastry roll, or something else that I can mostly prepare in advance. Then a vegetable dish or a green salad, or maybe both, usually some bread, and a dessert. I figured my mom and sister wouldn’t miss a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but I was worried about Kyle. I didn’t want him to have a Thanksgiving dinner that didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving dinner. He finally convinced me that he didn’t care so much about the food, what really mattered to him was the people.
This year for Thanksgiving dinner, we’re having lasagna, garlic bread, a green salad, and gingerbread with lemon sauce.
It’s been a while since I’ve had my family over for Thanksgiving. For the past two and a half years, I’ve declined to have family gatherings at Kyle’s and my condo. But this year, given that Donald Trump has actually been elected as our next president, and I’m scared for our country, I wanted to have my family over in the spirit of… I don’t know, I guess in the spirit of connecting with people at a time that scares the crap out of me.
And my mom is getting older, and her health is declining. So who knows how many more Thanksgivings we’ll have with her.
I hadn’t intended to end this post on such a melancholy note. Normally I’d try to find something upbeat to say.
Well, one thing I can say is that Kyle is firmly part of the family now. My mom thinks he’s the authority on all things African-American, she enjoys talking with him because he’s so intelligent. And she loves hugging him because he’s a big, tall, solid man. Just like my dad.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful day, eating food you enjoy, with people you love.