Sean of the South: Happy Thanksgiving

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sean dietrich w dogBy Sean Dietrich

It’s a few minutes until Thanksgiving. I thought I’d stay up and watch the clock change. I’m sipping tea, listening to gentle music playing in the background.

I think it’s Bing Crosby, or maybe Nat King Cole. The volume is too low to tell. Either way, it sounds like 1948 in this living room.

Yesterday, my wife made a batch of cornbread and biscuits. She left them on top the refrigerator so they’d get good and dry before she crumbled them into cornbread dressing.
There is a big debate between calling it “dressing” or “stuffing.” And while I am no authority on the matter, I can tell you this:

Once, I spent Thanksgiving at a buddy’s house, his mother was from West Virginia, and she served “stuffing.”

She cooked the entire feast without ever dropping the Winston cigarette that dangled from the corner of her mouth. And she must have had a few too many cups of holiday cheer because she accidentally shoved all her cornbread into a well-known orifice of the turkey’s body. I had never seen this done.

“What have you done to the dressing?” I asked her.

Sean of the South: Happy Thanksgiving“Dressing?” she said, laughing, elbow-deep in a turkey’s butt. “This ain’t dressing, kid. It’s stuffing.”

You can imagine my surprise when just before serving the turkey, she rammed an extra-long spoon up the bird’s backend and announced, “This stuffing looks a little undercooked, but oh well.”

It was apple-pecan stuffing. Everybody ate some and a few hours later we all got deathly ill. And I don’t mean to get graphic here, but we were having projectile-like symptoms.
And that was the last time I ever ate salmonella-flavored West Virginia stuffing.

Anyway, I’m sorry I brought that up. Especially on Thanksgiving. What I meant to say was that I hope you have a great day. And I really mean that, I’m not just blowing smoke.

I love this holiday. The smells, the colors, the families trying to run each other down with their SUVs and make it look like self-defense. The nervous breakdowns in the bathroom, the forced pleasantries among in-laws, and of course, the cornbread dressing. I love it all.

But when I was a kid, I did not like holidays. In fact, I hated them.

And that’s why I’m writing you. The thing is, for some people, holidays really stink. They are reminders of how everybody ELSE in the world has a nice, happy family, and how you have jack squat.

At least that’s how it was for my family during my childhood. After my father died in a pretty horrible way, people would invite us to spend holidays with them because they felt sorry for us. We would join them, but it was awful.

The only thing worse than being sad on Thanksgiving is being a charity case, sitting all alone on someone’s living room sofa.

But my story isn’t important here. What I’m saying is that there are lots of people who are like I was. People who hate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day. To them, this is the hardest part of the year.

You can’t always see these heartbroken people because they disguise themselves with happy faces that make them invisible. I know this because I grew up that way. I had a phony face for every occasion.

There’s the “We’re-doing-great-thanks-for-asking” face. There’s the “We’re-so-happy-we’re-practically-squatting-out-gold-bricks” face. And the “If-I-were-any-happier-I’d-be-in-the-nuthouse” face.

Lies. All lies.

So, if you are lucky enough to have what could be loosely called a good life, I hope you look for these forlorn people. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to invite them to move into your house. You don’t have to act all sympathetic and frowny faced.

But maybe you can sit beside them on a sofa, tell them a funny story, or try to get them to smile. Or if you are hard up for conversational topics, you can always talk about how your sister-in-law is crazier than a runover cat.

Unless, of course, the person on the sofa is actually your sister-in-law herself. In which case, you will have no choice but to talk about “The Bachelorette” because that is all she ever freaking talks about.

When I was a kid, the people who saved my life were quiet, meek people. They were old men who entertained me with magic tricks, or a guitar, or by teaching me corny jokes.
And it was because of these people that for a few hours on a holiday like this one, in an ordinary living room, I was temporarily not sad.

Because of them, I would listen to Bing Crosby, or maybe it was Nat King Cole, and I would let myself pretend, like everyone else does, that today was the greatest day of the calendar year. Even though there is no such thing. Not really.

A day is just a day. You can’t make it more than that no matter how hard you wish. No matter which fancy name you give it.

But then again, what if you can? What if today really is the best day in the history of the world?

And what if the coolest thing you and I could ever do upon this weary earth is not to be a big hero; or make lots of money; or live a long life; or travel the globe; or be the best in our field; or do something noteworthy; or be considered important; or unique; or successful? What if the greatest thing anyone could ever do is to simply to find some sad little heart, sitting all alone on a sofa, and make that heart un-sad?

Watch out for undercooked stuffing. Eat dressing instead.

Happy Thanksgiving.