A Washington Thanksgiving

I am from Western Washington, so for me Thanksgiving will always array itself in the color of rain; a good color, a color of warm socks, of drops trailing down panes of glass, of steam rising from a pot on our kitchen stove. Looking at the home movies from my childhood taken during a whole succession of Thanksgivings in the early 60s I feel again the beauty of the rain in the mingling of my memories with the shadows on the screen.

There’s my brother Rick, 12 years older than me, coming in from the perpetual iron gray weather. His jacket is sopping. He’s been out on his paper route but is home in time for Thanksgiving supper. Somehow I can smell the odd metallic smell of the November rain on his red jacket. There’s Mike, my other brother, who is nine years older than me. His ears are like open car doors and his newly formed Adam’s apple protrudes from his neck as if he’d swallowed a ball point pen. Outside, the big raindrops pelt hard against the window while he makes a funny face and kisses Mom.

Now Mom brings out the varnished turkey and waves for the camera. She and my Dad smooch. You can’t see the rain now because it’s dark and the cold window is steamy from the big supper bubbling just off screen. Over the rattle of the projector I can almost hear their voices.

Seeing these pictures reminds me of the reality of a world which is much larger and more limitless than I am told to expect by TV and the daily small talk of the office. When these pictures were taken I had a much livelier awareness of the strange goodness of things. Wonders were under every rock, needing only an appreciative lover like a four year old to bring them out into the daylight. At the time these movies were made I still suspected my brother Mike was a god. He could say magic words and, according to everyone in my family, make me invisible. Similarly, my mother kept me in a state of permanent tantalized curiosity about how she got potatoes, which I hated, inside french fries, which I loved. Nothing was as it seemed and whole new universes were around every corner. If I could have articulated it, I would have said God lived, not on a cloud (as adults so patronizingly think children believe), but Behind Things; behind the sky, behind the wall, behind what I could see.

This perhaps has something to do with the rising, the gladness, I feel watching my dripping brother Rick come home from that paper route again. Once more, I feel for a moment the gladness of being four, a gladness bound up with Rick home, with Mike and his amazing tricks, with parents who smooched even when the camera wasn’t on, with the rain on the carport roof. It is a gladness rooted in the sense that I am very small, that dinner smells heavenly, and that the steamy black window conceals some wild, violent joy out in the wide Autumn world–or behind it.

My Dad picks me up and I squirm to get free, so he squeezes me tighter and lets me go. I sit here wishing I could get behind the screen, just to thank him for the squeeze and the letting go. I wish I could go behind the shadows into the reality and say thank you to all of those people, unaware of me as I watch them again with my four year old eyes.

It’s supposed to rain for Thanksgiving tomorrow. When I go to Mass, I will meet Christ behind the bread and wine to bless my Dad’s memory, to thank Him for my family, and to ask the gifts I have been given for my own little boys. When the wild weather rattles against the stained glass, I will feel again the joyful mysteries behind that black kitchen window, black as this dark room, and speak thanks to the One behind the shadow and the reality.


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