It’s funny how the mind plays tricks on us, isn’t it? For example, yesterday, I was thinking about Thanksgiving when I was a kid. Most years, it was Mom, Dad, my sister, my maternal grandmother (who lived with us most of my life), and me. Some years, assorted friends, boyfriends, husbands, and/or acquaintances would join us at the table to give thanks, but most years, it was just the five of us. And given how dysfunctional our family was, there’s not really much to be nostalgic about… except there is.
I fondly remember the warmth the house took on both from the food cooking in the kitchen to the better moods my family would don for the day. I remember setting the table (my favorite chore) – picking out just the right table cloth, napkins, china, and silver – and then folding the napkins into some sort of fantastic concoction that everyone would ooh and ahh over. I would even go so far as to make fancy place cards some years. But mostly, I remember feeling happy and satisfied around the table in a way I rarely felt in that house.
Dinner at the Bain house was normally a time for fighting and rushing; it’s no wonder I have food issues today. But Thanksgiving was different, for the most part. We were relaxed and I don’t remember any fights (though maybe there were a few over the years). And after the remains of the turkey and stuffing had been put away in the refrigerator to be brought out later for sandwiches, we almost always played games – Careers, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Life, Boggle, Balderdash, Outburst, and my sister’s personal favorite, Pit. My family was at their best when they were playing games. We teased each other and bonded. We laughed and enjoyed each other, and everyone forgot about their own personal angers and resentments and issues, if only for a couple of hours.
Since I’ve been divorced from Thing 2, I’ve been adrift from traditions of any sort. Each year, the holidays have been something different – sometimes spent with friends, sometimes spent with family, sometimes spent alone. Now that both of my parents are gone, my family consists of my sister, my brother-in-law, and me, and since we live 1,500 miles apart, it’s still an adrift situation, but it feels even more so since my mother died 9 months ago, which is kind of odd, since we really haven’t had that constant family thread since my father died in 2002. But now that there are no parents, it seems more pronounced.
The past few years, I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my good friends, Juanita and Erich, along with their family and friends and they have truly welcomed me in as family, too. This year, I was invited to both J&E’s and to the home of some new friends, who happened to ask me first. Being at Brian and Deborah’s with their teenage daughters and a friend, was a close approximation to being part of a family – eating together, laughing, teasing each other, hearing each other’s stories… and playing board games. It made me a bit nostalgic.
Last night, as we played Cranium, Pictionary, and Rumikub, I couldn’t help but think of my parents and how much fun they would have been having, had they been there. My mother, especially, could be so silly and funny when she wasn’t caught up in her own anger and drama – I like to think I was seeing more of her true and better self when she was at play.
Maybe that’s what I seek each Thanksgiving and Christmas – that sense of play in each of us. Maybe being playful does release our true and best selves, the person we first were when we were children, before we learned to be cynical or jaded or too serious. There are mind games we play with each other and there are mind games we play only with ourselves. And then there are games, the good kind… the ones that make us laugh, and tease, and clap, and hoot, and high five each other… played with a board, or cards, or dice, or molding clay, or spinners, or little ships with posts sticking out of the bottom of them.
I vote for more of those kinds of games and less of the mind games!