Thirteen years ago I spent my favorite holiday of the year at a diner. With a friend who I only superficially knew. Thirteen years ago my parents had the stomach virus and CANCELLED Thanksgiving. They told me and my brother and new wife not to come home. To find other plans. Easy for my brother and new wife since, well, he had a new wife with a family to go to. Not so easy for single me with no where to go. I had JUST met Tim and he wasn't quite ready to bring his just one date more than a one-night-stand, home to his family.
So I called my one friend who I knew was also homeless for the holiday and asked her if she wanted to find a restaurant to go to. We spent Thanksgiving of 1996 at Sarge's Diner on the Upper East side of Manhattan. Yup, we went All Out. I ordered the "Turkey Dinner" off the enormous plastic menu with a picture of the Turkey Dinner that I'd be ordering.
Ever since that Thanksgiving, I have appreciated what I adore about Thanksgiving So. Much. More. Yeah, yeah it's about giving thanks for family, friends, love and good food but until you've spent a Thanksgiving at Sarge's Diner, you have no idea how much more there is to give thanks for.
- The food before the bird. How many of you go to wherever it is you go for Thanksgiving only to be immediately escorted to the table and served the bird? To me, it's also about the sitting around in comfy chairs, sipping Bellinis (fancy I know) and nibbling on stuffed mushroom caps or at least some cheddar cheese on crackers. Rushed is not how I choose to feel as I eat my meal on Thanksgiving.
- Warmth. The warmth of a familiar hug. The warmth of a crackling fire place. Warm food. I barely knew my dinner companion. There was no fire (except possibly the one set by accident in the kitchen) and my food was at best luke warm. Five Star I tell you.
- Familiarity. I love the traditional foods that I am accustomed to eating on Thanksgiving. I don't like to look down at my stuffing and wonder what it's stuffed with. I don't like seeing the "chef" scoop applesauce from a Mott's container onto my plate. I recall a side of coleslaw on my plate with the turkey at the diner. Coleslaw + Thanksgiving = wrong. Familiar, smiling faces is also usually a given on Thanksgiving. I was surrounded at Sarges by strange, disappointed, lost faces. People who either didn't celebrate the holiday and were eating omelets, gyros or lasagna (all wrong) or people who stared empathetically at me, knowing I too, had no where better to go.
- Comfort. No matter where you choose to spend your Thanksgiving holiday there most likely will be an element or two of comfort in your surroundings. Comfortable company, comfortable chairs, comfortable conversation, comfortable numbness from the wine maybe? I was cold from the draft that entered the diner with each new customer. The friend I was with was one of those people who fills awkward silence with rambling nonsense only making it more uncomfortable. I think the only thing numb from the dinner was my butt from the hard wooden chair I was uncomfortably sitting in. And I'm not sure if you've ever ordered wine from a diner but it's not the kind that you would choose to drink an entire glass of, let alone enough to make you feel numb.
So tomorrow, when I am in the company of my husband's family, I will be thankful. Thankful for this holiday that I don't have to spend in temple or feel guilty for not going to temple. This holiday that there is no pressure of buying the perfect gifts. This holiday that I don't have to explain to my kids why we celebrate it and others don't, or why they do and we don't. This holiday where we don't have to fast or eliminate my favorite food group. This holiday where the only symbol is a turkey which I don't have to be sad my kids will some day realize doesn't even exist.
I will "be present" in the day. I will connect with family that I don't see often enough and be disconnected from the eWorld. I will enjoy the laughter, the warmth, the comfort and the familiar (although miss my side of the family around the dinner table). I will give thanks for my immediate little family that I cherish. I will not rush the day like I so often do, but will instead relish each minute. (And now I may spend some time wondering why a word that means 'chopped up spicy pickles' and 'appreciate' are the same word)
And I will make a toast to Sarge's Diner for helping me to truly appreciate this day.