I’m in the throes of my annual bout with laryngitis. Unfortunately we have yet to have really cold weather to kill off whatever allergen is responsible for my yearly froggy voice. I can’t recall ever enduring weak vocal chords on Thanksgiving Day but thus it was yesterday. The timing was most unfortunate because I had the opportunity to converse with relatives in a marathon of conversation. My swollen larynx let me down. By the end of our big family celebration I had become a fly speck on the wall by default, simply listening to whatever everyone had to say. When I tried to talk I was only able to muster a creak or a croak. In a strange twist of fate my affliction lead to one of those profound serendipitous moments of reflection when a kind of pleasant epiphany overtakes the brain.
I found myself simply watching and listening to the chorus of conversations and activities taking place all around my brother’s house. At first I heard only a cacophony of sounds but as I earnestly settled into observation mode I began to sense the harmony of love filling the corners and the rooms. My extended family is a diverse bunch to say the least. My sister-in-law was born in China but grew up in Taiwan with her siblings who have become as much a part of my family as they would have if we were connected by blood. All of my nieces and nephews were there along with their children. I noted a range of skin hues that went from a lovely dark olive to a milky complexion festooned with freckles. The eyes of those present were mostly brown just as mine are but a few among us boasted lovely shades of blue much like my grandmothers had. My sister-in-law and her siblings wore dark bountiful heads of thick healthy hair and those who carry the more European genes had lovely golden blonde curls.
We ate a very traditional lunch of turkey and dressing with all of the trimmings but our revelry continued well into the night at which time my sister-in-law used leftovers to create a luscious noodle delight for anyone who still had room for more food. I thought of the seamless melding of cultures that exits in the crazy quilt of personalities that comprises the group that we call family. We simply take our differences for granted and accept and even celebrate that so much diversity has evolved from our parents.
As I watched the interactions and felt the warmth of the love in the room I could not help thinking of my father who was not with us long enough to see what we would become. I think that he would have been quite proud of our character and our accomplishments. Of course thinking of him lead me to reverie about his mother. It was at her home that we first celebrated Thanksgiving in the long ago. My brother purposely purchased china identical to hers just for our annual gatherings. His menu always includes the kind of dishes that she would have prepared. I have little doubt that she would have given her seal of approval for the entire affair but mostly she would have been totally delighted to realize just how remarkable her family had become.
It saddened me a bit to know that neither my father nor my grandmother had lived long enough to watch my brothers and me grow into adults and begin our own families. Still my belief in heaven comforts me. I have suspected for much of my life that my dad and his mom are always watching over me and my siblings. I think that they know what we have done and maybe even give us a celestial nudge now and again that we don’t even realize is happening. Somehow our family unit which fit the classic definition of dysfunction made it through enormous challenges to become a paragon of closeness and unconditional love. The strong feelings that we have for one another fairly radiates in the air. Even the smallest babies feel calm and relaxed in the midst of laughter and loud conversations. They sense that they are in a very safe place where they will be protected and free to become whomever they want to be. That is the nature and essence of my quirky family that outsiders don’t always understand.
We are loud and boisterous and sometimes even engage in verbal battles of wits but there is never a mean thought or intention from anyone. We simply enjoy being under one roof together, a feat that becomes more and more difficult as the group grows and grows. On any given occasion someone will invariably be missing and even with a full house we feel just a bit off kilter without them.
I’m quite excited about Christmas this year. Barring a plague of illnesses we should have the full crew with relatives pouring in from Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, San Antonio, and San Francisco. Our gift exchange game should be quite raucous as we strategize to end up with a favored item. I suspect that it will be lengthy affair but we will be kept full and happy by my brother’s traditional Christmas Eve Rueben sandwiches. This year we will be joined by my newest sister-in-law’s mother and her spouse, a delightful man who as a young boy endured the Holocaust.
I have always loved my family above all else but somehow being forced by nature to be silent and merely watch them in action provided me with a unique opportunity to realize just how wonderful they really are. It’s been a rough year for me. I am accustomed to being as healthy as they come but somehow I have been sidelined again and again by mostly minor fixable ailments but those that nonetheless have curbed my activities. As I sat in my little corner gazing on the wonderful scene before me I realized that all of the trappings of my life are of little worth compared to the profound closeness that me and my family share. This same group, give or take a person here and a person there, gathered in a tiny hospital room when my mother was dying and joined hands in a circle of love that melded our hearts together. I believe that they are reason that I move confidently forward from day to day. I know without doubt that if I need them they are only a phone call or text away.
My heart was filled with gratitude on Thanksgiving Day just as it should be. I found myself even feeling glad that I could not talk. It was in the silence that I heard my true voice and I was all the better for that.