Today, I am reminded of the years at 60 Meadow Street in the basement of my Aunt Sondra’s house.
On mornings like this one, Aunt Sondra would open the basement door and call down to my cousin Craig and myself.
And while wrapped in the daybreak hours of a quiet sleep, Aunt Sondra would call down, “Good Morning,” in a calm but emphasized tone.
Her words carried down the stairs and through the corridor like a boom to the still resting.
This meant it was time for both Craig and me to get out of bed. We met in the corridor outside of our rooms. Both of us were still reeling from the early wakeup call, and both of us rubbed our eyes to wipe the sleep away.
We walked up the stairs into the kitchen where Aunt Sondra had been working on the menu for Thanksgiving. She had different foods spread out on the counter.
Both the upper and lower oven was in use with the red bands of electric heating coils glowing behind the glass window in the oven door. There were pots on the electric cooktop stove, and the kitchen sink was running water over vegetables placed in a vegetable strainer.
Craig and I sat at the small round table in our kitchen with plates of breakfast already served. I believe these mornings were harder on Craig than they were on me. The dynamics of his relationship was different. After all, she was his mother and I was her nephew, but in actuality, Aunt Sondra was a mother to me as well.
In the early stressful hours, we discussed the seating arrangements. We figured on which table could go where and where to leave the couches after moving them from the living room.
Next, we vacuumed the rug, cleaned, wiped down the picture frames, and straightened up in the bathroom.
The house itself was not large. Walking into the entryway, a door chime calmly welcomed visitors into the home. To the right was a book shelf with compartments designed for shoes, and straight ahead was a sign written in what I can only describe as warm lettering that said, “Stocking feet only, please.”
This is where guests left there shoes. There was a coat closet, but the closet was not big enough for holiday events.
Aunt Sondra would say, “Ben, you will be in charge of coats.” But the coats often ended up on a small table near the bookshelf with the shoes.
Straight ahead was the kitchen with a dark rugged floor and paneled walls. The kitchen might have been outdated, but I received some of the best and most loving meals in that room.
To the left of the entrance foyer was the living room, which blended into the dining room, and beyond was Aunt Sondra’s bedroom, a bathroom, and her office was towards the rear.
The doorway to the basement was by the front of the kitchen, and home to me, and out of placed kid. I lived there for eight years. I lived as a member of this team and though I went through struggles, this was my home.
Everything in the house had history. Much of the furniture came from somewhere in the family. It was kept as a symbol of remembrance and love. Pieces of furniture, like the coffee table from my grandmother’s Miami apartment, or the table near the bookshelf where the coats would end up; these were all tied to a specific time or era.
After breakfast, Craig and I moved the necessary couches and arranged the tables to seat all of the expected guests and more. I say expected; however, there were always more than just the invited, and it was our job to make sure they were not only accommodated, but welcomed.
Some holidays, we were able to make the food service in an almost buffet style. However, Thanksgiving was not as easy. The meal was held to a traditional feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, brisket, and there were other dishes like noodle pudding, and cranberry sauce.
There were gravy boats filled with brown gravy, glasses to drink from, bottles of wine, and pitchers of water or iced tea.
It was our job to make sure the room was set and the tables were right. Then, after everything was in place, Craig and I returned to our rooms downstairs in the basement.
We began phase two of readiness. And sometimes, that was harder than phase one. We cleaned our rooms (mine was always a wreck.)
We cleaned the laundry room and the downstairs bathroom. Either Craig or I would shower first, while the other would continue. Often, I showered first because Craig was more conscientious than I and more aware of details.
We were the home team.
I miss that.
Eventually, guests would arrive and their arrival began in trickles until everyone showed up at once. Everyone from family to extended family was invited.
The tensions amongst the home team began to settle, and we greeted people we hadn’t seen in a long time.
Aunt Sondra was always good at getting people together. She knew how to make people feel welcomed, and above all, she knew how to make people feel loved.
As the sun fell, we all sat in our seats and fell into our tradition. Aside from a thankful prayer, and prayers from the Synagogue my cousins grew up in, we had another tradition.
We went around the table and everyone had their chance to say what they were thankful for.
I recall some of these thankful words.
I remember when my Aunt Peggy said, “Well, I got to have another year with Alan……so I’m thankful for that.”
Alan was my Uncle.
Every branch of my family was represented in some way. There was always someone there as a representative of each side, and at first, the guests began their thankful list with an awkward smile.
But quickly, the smile subsided to genuine emotion, and the spirit of Thanksgiving took its place in a small house located at 60 Meadow Street.
We ate, and laughed. We cleaned our plates and left room for dessert and coffee. Then we talked like family talks.
I miss that too.
We have all spread out in different directions. Some of the internal feuds grew heavy; people stopped speaking to each other, and after Aunt Sondra passed, there was no one that could organize, or handle our family like she could.
Today is Thanksgiving:
I am thankful for the roof above my head and all that live in it. I am thankful that I have a job; I have food on my table, and a fridge to keep my leftovers. I have clothes on my back, a car to get me from here to there, a community with neighbors that like me (and some that don’t)
I am thankful for the friends I have and the friends I no longer speak to.
I am blessed with another year with my Wife; my dogs…..even Oscar the Parrot.
I have these thoughts in my head, my computer to store them in, and you to read them
(and that means a lot)
But most of all, I have the memory of my home team. I have the lessons my Aunt taught me as well as the direction my cousin gave me.
I have love in my heart and pretty soon, I will have food in my belly.
What more can a man ask for?
On this Thanksgiving, I remember the love I was given….and for this, I am truly thankful
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.” Psalms 100:4
Thank you for all you have given us. Thank you for these gifts, which we are about to receive, and thank you for opening our eyes and hearts on this day of Thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks