Teri Orr: Warning — holidays ahead
The image — from before I was born — is still classic. The Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving — from 1942 — “Freedom From Want.” It displays an elderly woman in an apron holding a groaning platter, which holds a giant, golden-roasted turkey. An elderly man, in a suit, stands behind her. The painting — which was later recognized as a kind of white-on-white statement has white dishes, whitish silverware, a whitish soup tureen and a white tablecloth. The cornucopia of fruit appears to be golden. The kind of ember-colored aspic-looking side dish matches the fruit somehow.
The faces of those seated around the table are also a kind of study of white on white — all white adults and the face of a single white child. The curtains are white — there is muted whitish greenish wallpaper and white wainscoting. No one looks like they are under the influence of anything stronger than a second glass of sherry.
That image has been used to depict some symbol of what the “perfect” holiday table looked like and we have suffered for it for generations.
Now, of course, the meal alone requires a certain amount of detente — vegans, non-dairy, locally sourced, no nuts, oysters versus cornbread, white wine, red wine, rose? No mincemeat, just pumpkin, or maybe frozen chocolate ice cream pies. The Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant somehow seems simpler.
Abundance is a word that got bantered about much in the last few decades along with Appreciation and Gratitude. Not just for holidays but year-round with slices and crumbs of how to live. And what was enough shifted — as our electronic world took over our literal world and we saw images constantly of other dinner tables — grander than our own — that became symbols of desire. Those tables and side tables and children’s tables were all works of art with polished silver and spectacular floral arrangements and vintage plates and vintage wines and elegant high-count linens.
But if we were honest, the faces around the table were changing too — there were people of color and various sexual orientations and those struggling with substance abuse issues and those who were so anxious it took all they had to just pull up the chair to that table. Perfect never was. Real, was always what my friend used to call … the bowling balls under the table. You can’t see them, you know they are there — you are trying like hell to not have them flatten your feet while you are smiling above it all, asking someone to “pass the potatoes” please.
Do not think you will escape this life without lumpy potatoes and under-cooked turkey and tasteless biscuits in your path. The good Lord did not want you to go through life without understanding the (almost un)edible valleys that led you to the mountains of good flavor. If you didn’t have that holiday where everyone seemed to argue about politics and rude teenagers were themselves and the debate over who was responsible for the disastrous camping trip last summer — then you don’t really have family.
And if you haven’t had a year when you were an orphan at a holiday you cannot know how delicious a shared meal with friends who feel like family — without any of that baggage — can be. If you have been blessed to have large messy gatherings with lots of unrelated people of lots of ages and stripes with multiple makeshift tables with mismatched dishes and dripping candles and wines of various colors and side dishes that come from different countries — then you have known how to say and embrace grace.
There are years, sometimes many, when that expected meal doesn’t happen. When you just pray you spend sometime not in a hospital room sharing takeout, not in the car stuck in a storm, not alone because it was just … easier.
Yes, the world is about as scary a place as I can remember in my life. The list of things to fear and be sad about is so long it can seem endless. We need to worry more about natural disasters colliding with man-made ones. And politics locally/globally. And what would a holiday meal be without a heated discussion about … something.
Here’s the best of what I can wish you at the start of this six-week cycle of real and feigned joy … I wish you messy hot love covered in gravy, delicious sweet potato moments — lumps and all, a long walk and a longer laugh. Full-bodied hugs from big-breasted women, and kind strong men. Laughter from small children who all want the wishbone. A spirited debate over which is better — the new “A Star is Born” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
I wish you small mercies — the test that comes back negative. The prodigal family member who returns to the fold. The peace that comes after loss.
I am thankful. For so much. Mostly family — mostly healthy — occasionally messy — but overall — in this time of Trump and smartphones and easily accessible edibles — we’re all holding up pretty well. However you address your god — pray for love to stay stronger than hate. On this Thanksgiving and this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Columnist Tom Clyde has been unable to nab a ski reservation so far, so instead he’s catching up on all the important animal-related news going on in the world.