My grandmother was always the Thanksgiving hostess. She took great, possessive pride in this. The holiday was hers, and nobody dared to challenge her. When I got married, I made very clear to my husband that Thanksgiving would be at my grandmother’s apartment. Any other holiday was up for grabs, but she owned Thanksgiving.
One year, a week before Thanksgiving, my grandmother left her apartment to do her preliminary Thanksgiving shopping at the supermarket in her Manhattan neighborhood. While walking home, her wheeled cart laden with potatoes, bread and cans of cranberry sauce, she stepped into a crosswalk on Broadway and 68th Street and a van running a red light hit her.
My parents summoned me to New York. My son was a little over a year old, so I brought him with me. By the time I arrived, my grandmother had undergone brain surgery, but her prognosis was grim. I went to see her in the hospital’s ICU, and I didn’t recognize her. Not because she was bruised or disfigured but because she wasn’t my grandmother anymore. Her spirit was gone. At my parents’ request, I authorized the hospital to unplug her from life support and let her go.
That year, we did not have a happy Thanksgiving. My husband joined us in New York and we brought my parents with us to his parents’ house, where my mother-in-law served a lovely Thanksgiving dinner that I remember very little of, although I do recall there was a great deal of drinking and crying. At the end of the weekend, my husband, my son and I returned to our home in Connecticut, where I spent a lot of time dealing with my parents’ grief and my own. In the middle of this mournful period, my husband proposed what he considered a terrific idea: “Let’s have another baby.”
I couldn’t imagine having another child while I was drowning in sadness. But my husband pointed out that it had taken us a long time to conceive our first child, and we ought to start on a second child now if we wanted our children to be spaced only a few years apart. Weary and worn out, I agreed.
Much to my surprise, I became pregnant immediately. My midwife calculated my due date to be exactly one year from the day my grandmother died.
Life is a mystery. I wondered why I’d gotten pregnant so quickly and imagined my grandmother’s hand in it. Maybe she’d had to leave the world so there would be a place in it for my new child. Maybe her spirit would enter me and settle into my baby. Who knew?
What I did know was that the next Thanksgiving my family celebrated was not a sad one. My second son made the scene the Monday before Thanksgiving. I postponed our Thanksgiving feast until Saturday, then invited my parents and in-laws to my house and served a pared-down but tasty meal. From that moment on, Thanksgiving became my holiday.
My meal is not identical to my grandmother’s. Her stuffing contained celery and mushrooms; mine contains apples. She prepared mashed turnips; I’m a butternut-squash person. Her Thanksgiving dinner never concluded with birthday cake. Mine does, every year. Pumpkin pie, apple cake and a chocolate layer cake, my younger son’s favorite.
Like the great-grandmother he never knew, my son is smart, generous, musically talented and a bit scatterbrained. Other than that, they don’t have much in common. But thanks to him, Thanksgiving is a once again happy occasion for my family.
I still miss my grandmother, and I always will. But as we celebrate my son’s birthday every November, I feel her presence, celebrating with us. What I am most grateful for, in this season of giving thanks, is that out of great sorrow, great joy can arise.
May your holidays be filled with joy!
Judith Arnold’s most recent publication is Holding Hands, one of the launch titles at Lunch Hour Love Stories, a fun new site featuring romantic novellas and short stories. Holding Hands is available at all the ebook retailers. You’ll find the links at Lunch Hour Love Stories.