Canadian Thanksgiving

By Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. Lambda rep...

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Of late I have been more immersed in my family of origin than not. Number One Nephew’s situation resulted in a bit of “scheming” with my brother which resulted in N1, as of last evening, being safely in CB’s custody out in California. N1 sounded brighter and more hopeful than he has in a long time, and I know that my brother is tickled to have the boy out there.

We also have Mother for the week and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. She’s preparing to semi-retire and wants to use up holiday time before she plunges into the lap of leisure. Since we visited over the summer, I suggested fall for her visit and she agreed.

The interesting thing about all this is that for the first time in a long while, I feel connected to my own roots. Most of the time, family is Rob and the girls. His family and his in-laws. Physical distance keeps my side of the relations a strictly virtual experience although sometimes that’s more than enough. But having Mom here plus the hours spent on the phone with my brother in the last couple of weeks has brought up opportunities to talk about myself and my history. That’s not something that happens much anymore.

Monday evening while Rob was out fetching Dee from Girl Guides for me (he noted that I was exhausted and offered to go in my stead), Mom and I sat on the sofa in the living (I cannot tell you how long it’s been in days since I had a sofa or a living room) and talked. The discussion meandered but it centered finally on Will. Nothing earth shattering, but when I thought about it later, I realized that I don’t really talk about him. Because I don’t really have anyone with whom to talk about him.

Dee is uninterested in her late father. I doubt she will ever care much about him at all aside from the passing curious inquiry, if that. That’s as it should be. He was never her dad in an active sense, and she doesn’t need to be burdened with obligation to a memory. Will’s own mother bludgeoned him with his late father’s memory, and he resented it, and her, all his adult life.

Rob listens here and there, as I do to his occasional references to his late wife, but they have nothing to do with our life, us or our future, and so have no place outside the incidental in our conversations.

No one ever brings Will up. Until this past summer, when my sister DNOS surprised me with an out of the blue reference to Will, my family ignores his existence and have readily transferred Dee’s “ownership” to Rob, which probably reflects heavily our backgrounds as adoptees because we don’t place the same odd premium on DNA that most people do.

But all of these things remind me that I am not moored to extended family that is “my own” or to history for that matter. I am like a transplanted tree.

Mick asked Rob recently what our plans for Christmas were this year. Her mother’s nephew and wife want to host the holiday at their home up in the Canadian Rockies. Last year, we moved Christmas Eve to the home of nephew’s auntie. A last-minute venue change to accommodate the older girls wanting to hang out with cousins on their mother’s side. It was a bit disruptive for Dee but she is used to rolling with it anymore. Christmas in a mountain hotel (shudder) would be a bit more than a “roll with it” thing, and add the unpredictable nature of nephew’s alcoholic mother* to the scenario, and a quiet Christmas in front of our own fireplace is infinitely preferable.

Rob just joked that maybe he, Dee and I would go to Arizona to spend Christmas with his mom and her husband then. Dee would like that, but she would be terribly lonely for her sisters either way. But their moving on to traditions of their own is inevitable and her being so much younger means she will have to put her ability to roll to more active use more frequently as time goes on.

This will be year five that I haven’t seen my family at Christmas. Not that it’s here or there. You grow up and away and begin traditions of your own as you date, mate and breed. It’s not the Disney theory of the “circle of life” but more accurate in terms of what life really is. My nearness to my family in the past coupled Will’s dislike of his own family lead us to spend the holidays with them more than anything. Had his mother’s family not been a drama infested Bedlam and his dad’s not an aloof bunch, it might have been different.

It’s proximity (which is totally relative) that dictates our current defaulting to Rob’s in-laws and his family recently. If we’d relocated to Texas or overseas as we’d thought once upon a time, everything would be different. But it’s not as if this happens all the time or that I am even aware of it often because most of the time, it’s just Rob, I and Dee. The older girls have their own lives and we have our routines as well.

Thanksgiving is at our house this weekend. A huge gathering with hopefully better weather than the wet gloom that plagues us right now. The new kitchen is operational minus the dishwasher thought that should be up and running by week’s end. The dining room will be rough, the living room isn’t painted and we’re still padding about on sub-floor, but the decor is the least of a feast.

And I am not complaining. Just observing. Awareness is just that and nothing more.


*They are a hard-drinking lot when they gather. I stayed on the outermost bleeding edges at the few family things I’ve attended – and even factoring out that these were funeral oriented where people tend to drink a lot more (although getting hammered after a funeral is not a family tradition that I grew up with, I know that it exists) – I have distanced myself from some branches of my own family because of the tendency to equate copious amounts of libation with “fun”. Growing up with an alcoholic just makes me want to avoid anything that reminds me of it and shield Dee from the idea that drinking too much is ever a good idea for any reason. The main reason though is that people tend to dig deep into their past hurts/issues when the tipping point comes and though nothing has ever been directed toward me – I have heard things I wasn’t meant to hear. That wouldn’t be a Happy Christmas for me.


Appropriately there is snow but the Canadian Christmas shopping season does not begin until the first weekend of December and their shopping orgy is actually the day after Christmas – Boxing Day.  Therefore, Thanksgiving is about food, family and whatever winter sport floats one’s boat.

Fare’s birthday fell on the holiday this year. She was born on the day too, 27 years ago.  Rob celebrated by eating lukewarm turkey at Shelley’s sister’s home while wife and baby did what new mothers and their less than patient newborns do in those first hours – wonder what the hell they have gotten themselves into.

Because the older girls are at the mercy of their jobs, we celebrated birthday and Thanksgiving Sunday evening. I spent most of the day Saturday and nearly all of Sunday in food preparation. Saturday was peeling, shredding and baking four mutant zucchini into bread. Fourteen loaves of it. Excuse me now while I pause to bask in my own awesomeness. (Pause) Truthfully, bread baking is far less time consuming than it sounds because a lot of the time is spent waiting for loaves to bake. Sunday I made the rolls, pumpkin pies and cooked the spaghetti squash in advance due to the fact that the turkey breast was going to tie up the oven for most of the afternoon.

Thanksgiving Menu

turkey breast and dressing

mashed taters and gravy

flakey rolls

zucchini and pumpkin bread

green beans

spaghetti squash

pumpkin pie

angel food cake and strawberries

I know. The essence of my awesomeness is blinding even in cyberspace. For someone late in life to the whole housewifey thing, I have adapted and conquered nicely.

In addition to whipping up a fab family meal, Rob and I also planned a vacation. A real one. One with just the merest hint of family as we will stop over at Rob’s mom’s place in the Okanagan on the way back

“Are you sure?” I asked. “This is supposed to be a vacation with no obligations to anyone.”

“Family is always an obligation,” he said. “You don’t want to stop, do you?

He had me there. I love my mother-in-law, but she stayed with us two weekends in a row in September and always has a job list for Rob whether we visit her or she stops here.

“We barely get there and she has chores for you. I end up cooking dinner, and there is the small matter of sometimes she is so happy to see us, she tipples a bit much.”

The drinking thing, I confess, is entirely a personal issue. I am uneasy around drinkers. A glass of wine with dinner now and again, I get. The need to drink daily or past the point of seeing straight? I am baffled and put off a bit. Some of this goes back to my dad and some of it is residual from the early days of Will’s illness when he leaned on alcohol as a way to cope with the symptoms the doctors dismissed. My personal preference is to never be in close quarters with the inebriated. That’s just me.

But we are heading to Victoria in November over Dee’s fall break week. The trip includes a stop in Jasper, one of my favorite mountain towns, a ferry ride from Vancouver to the island, days in a row of vacationing with the possibility of meeting Sally and her family, and the tantalizing lure of warmer than where we live.

A most happy day of thanks.

Our Thanksgiving is not the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season. In fact, stores up here do not adopt the longer shopping hours associated with the season of over-giving until December despite the fact that Christmas decor and related items are already beginning to pop up here and there.

A quick google of the holiday revealed something similar to the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. A stop and start acknowledgment over the course of a couple of centuries, that here in Canada finally found a home of the second Monday of October. A sensible choice really as it means to mark the end of harvest and promote family time, which most folk seem to take quite seriously.

We will have a quiet immediate family supper tonight. The only other family member we could have invited is Rob’s mother, but the drive from the Okanagan is long and expensive and we don’t have the budget for flying her up here right now as we don’t know if I will have to head for the States to help out with Dad.

To quickly update on my dad, he had a doctor appointment today. The fluid around his lungs is building and he is very tired and short of breath most of the time with things becoming more critical when he exerts himself. Exertion has come to be any time he must get up and walk, even if it is just a few steps.

He still went to mass yesterday. He tries to save his energy for that one outing a week. Despite everything, Dad is a very spiritual man and takes his religion quite seriously though he has modified his alignment with some of the teachings that don’t line up with what he has observed in real life*.

Rob woke me in the wee hours with reports of our ghosties renewing activities again. I didn’t see what he did or remember echoing the ghost in my sleep by calling out his name, but I have felt the “presence” in the last few days, so I am not surprised. We had similar issues late last November and leading up to the death of Shelley’s mother. I am sure that this new round of bumps in the night are connected to my dad.

He reported pain for the first time today. His ribs, which are probably cancerous now, hurt. The fact that he mentioned pain is not a good sign. He has a freakishly high tolerance for pain of the excruciating kind. Pain that would turn the rest of us into wimpering babies. When he suffered from crushed vertebrae (three time in the last two years) he made do with regular Tylenol and a heating pad and rarely reported the pain above a 3 or 4 on the scale. If he is in pain enough to bring it up on his own – as opposed to it being dragged our of him as was typical of the past – it must be intolerable.

He has another doctor appointment next Wednesday to discuss putting in a chest tube to drain the fluid. I can’t be sure but I think the doctors are staggering his appointments and their interventions in the hopes that the cancer will “get him” before anything too invasive has to be done. A chest tube is painful and limits mobility my home health care nurse BFF tells me. I hope he doesn’t have to go there.

My guess, though, is that dad will not make November.

We had talked of visiting over BabyD’s fall break but that is still a month away and if he is still alive, the atmosphere will likely be decidedly death-ish. I am not willing to expose BabyD or Rob to that. And since Dad is still telling me that I don’t need to come (and I really should for mom’s sake – she is suffering terribly and I know too well how awful the whole “widow in waiting” period is), I think he doesn’t want to expose me to what is happening either.**

On a bit happier note, my first pieces at 50 Somethings Mom blog are slated to go up on the 14 and 17th, please try to get over there for a peek and a comment. This is kind of a big time blogging thing for me as I had to sign a writer’s agreement and have a chance to have my pieces picked up for syndication.

Finally, the Hey Sarah Palin video I posted has been driving my views the past couple of days, so I wanted to direct you all to a post over at The Zoo. It’s a clip from a recent Biden rally with an intro from Sen. Clinton. She reminded me again of what women should really aspire for when pursuing a political career. Her fervent belief in the cause and her willingness to campaign for Obama are also are in striking contrast to the Republicans. Where is Huckabee these days? Or that Mormon dude? Apparently the right’s sense of team and supporting held values extends only so far and their pseudo-Klan rallies that pass as campaigning these days says much about their message and what they value.

*For example he views the teaching on IVF as silly in light of his granddaughter’s humble beginnings in a petri-dish. It’s clear to him she is not the anti-Christ and that her existence was clearly meant to be. But, this came to him slowly. He was a giant pain in my ass during my IVF cycle and pregnancy.

**I only play a tough girl on my blog. In reality I am still waiting for the thick skin to grow back.