Saturday, November 28, 2015

If They Had Stayed One More Day...

I got up at 6 AM and walked over to the hotel where my folks, littlest sister and two nephews were staying.  I watched them pack up their things and load up their van.  I gave them each a hug, told them I loved them, asked them to drive safely or take care, where appropriate.  Then I walked back toward my apartment as they drove off toward the freeway to head back to Oklahoma and Arkansas.  
Thanksgiving is now officially over.  
I am not, by nature, a thankful person.  I'm fairly polite.  I will say thank you when someone gives me directions, holds the door open for me, passes me a plate of food at the dinner table.  I'm pretty good at that.
That's not the same as being a "thankful" person, though.  I'm talking about those people who wake up, grateful to be alive, who believe every moment is a gift, who have the light of everlasting JOY shining out their eyes, casting back the darkness of despair and loneliness. 
Not me.  
On Thursday, when I saw people on Facebook posting their lists of the things they are thankful for, I thought I should do something like that.  I tried writing out something, but stopped because of all the caveats that I wrote along with each item.  
"I'm thankful that I have a job, because if I didn't (and it may very well be taken away from me at the next economic downturn or recognition by the powers that be that they don't need me the way they thought they did), I'd be standing at the corner of some off-ramp with a sheet of cardboard in hand being ignored by just about everyone."  
Not a very inspiring list.  Very little uplift in there.  
It might seem ironic to some to learn that Thanksgiving is now my favorite holiday.  It was Christmas when I was a kid, but Thanksgiving supplanted Christmas shortly after I was fully into adulthood.  
For one thing, it's the easiest holiday to turn into a week's vacation.  I get the day, plus the following Friday off as a holiday.  Add three days of PTO and BOOM!  I'm not going tot he office for ten full days, counting the weekend.  
For another, it's focused on food.  I like food.  Eating is good.  And there's usually so much of it that you get leftovers to take home and use for lunch for days afterward.  
And then, there's my family.  That's probably the best reason for the holiday.  More than Christmas, Thanksgiving is about spending time with the family.  
We're not a cutout from a Norman Rockwell print, my family.  Not the Brady Bunch forty years later.  We argue.  Quite a bit.  And we'll sit in silence, watching TV or something, for long stretches.  The boys will be playing some game on their phones.  At a commercial break, Dad might open up the refrigerator in the hotel room and ask me, "Wanna Beer?"  I'll say, "sure," then, "thank you," as he reaches it over to me.  Then we'll go back to sitting quietly again.  
But it's a different sort of silence, this.  It's not the silence in my apartment when I come home from work each night, which I destroy with turning on the TV.  It's not an empty silence.  It's a restful one.  It's the quiet I used to hear as a kid, in my bedroom, when it was time to go to sleep and I'd hear Mom and Dad puttering about in the kitchen or heading off to their room.  One that would be broken with the door opening...
"Good night, Dad."  
"Good night."
"'Night, Mom."  
Then darkness and quiet and deep, deep sleep.  
Yeah.  Silence like that. 
And it comes with its own caveats, Thanksgiving does.  Because going into it, I know what day I have to catch my flight back home.  Or I'll know, like this time, when Dad will have to start driving back to get the boys home in time for school.  It's there.  Up front.  You know it going in.  
And that was today.  Early.  I got up at six because Dad always wants to get an early start.  I sat in a chair in a corner of the hotel room as they got themselves together.
"Where's the charger?" 
"Shouldn't you get a cart?"
"On the table."  
"The charger is on the table."
"I'm going to get the car"  
"It's on the table."  
"My charger.  Where's my charger?"  
"Is Dad going to get the cart?"  
"Isn't that your charger on the table?"  
"He's getting the van."  
It's like the ending credits to a movie.  One you've seen a number of times.  It may not be a hit or a classic.  More like a cult classic, one that you know the words to even if it's different each time.  
Then, the room is empty.  A guy from the front desk brings the cart and loads our bags...  Their bags, for them.  
"Did you guys check the room?" I ask, hanging back.  I look under the beds.  I pull out the drawers.  No sign that anyone I know has ever been here.  
I follow them out.  I hold the trunk door up while Dad loads the van.  He fills the back higher and tighter than Santa's sleigh starting out on Christmas Eve.  
Then the hugs.  Everyone gets one.  Some get two.  "Love you."  "Love you, too."  "Drive safe," to Dad and my nephew, who has his license now.  "Take care," to everyone else.  
As I start to walk away, Dad opens his window...
"You want a ride?"  
"No."  Then, "I'm fine.  I'll walk.  It's not far."  But it's more because I don't want to go through the good-byes again.  It would be more bitter than sweet if I did.  
As I walk home, I remember that I'd told my youngest nephew I'd see about taking him to the zoo while he was here.  We never got the chance to do that.  They went to Magic Mountain with their cousin instead.  
"If they had stayed until tomorrow, I would have taken them to the zoo today," I think to myself.  Then I wonder what that means when I knew all along they were leaving today.  
Thank you, Family, for coming to visit.  Happy Thanksgiving!  I look forward to the next time I get to be with you.  


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