Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks, reposted from November 27, 2008

Our English dining room, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, England 1973

It's the season of reminiscence, and thanksgiving.  A special thanksgiving that comes to mind is my first one in our new home in England, where Thanksgiving isn't even a holiday.

It was a week day like any other in Cheadle Hulme, except ti was more solidly sunny than most northern early winter days.  Top of my agenda: take our preschool daughter Anna on a mile or so walk across the village to pick out a kitten.  I'd seen the Free Kittens to Good Home sign at the green grocers and called the day before.

That's it.  No turkey, no brothers, mother, in-laws, etc., and definitely no feast.  At that time at least in northern England, trying to find cranberries or pumpkin would have been as easy as searching for whale blubber.  My husband Jim had a busy day planned at the University of Manchester.  This seemed logical earlier in the week.  But to my surprise, when Thursday actually arrived, I felt something powerful missing.  Like any stranger in a strange land, I was adrift without the customs of home.

I remember the day vividly, as I do only two other such days in my life.  Like most people, I remember my wedding day, the birthdays of our daughters (two more came along after Anna) and other life changing days.  But the three most powerfully remembered days, are days of utter pointless simplicity and delight.  One cannot foretell the mysterious election of this moment over that one. 

I can see the curls of Anna's blond hair peaking out from her cream colored hat, hand knit by Jim's mum; the gentle gusts of wind skittering dried leaves as we walked; the feel of the air on my face; the clarity of the sunlight and how it sparkled and refracted above and through the bare trees.  And the light mix of cumulus and stratus clouds--whites and light greys--streaking across the bluest of skies.  These images are as clear as if this 40 year old day happened yesterday, no, more vividly than mere yesterday.

When we found the detached Victorian house I opened the wrought iron gate and wheeled Anna's stroller up the walkway to the front steps.  The mother cat's owner was delighted to see us, charmed to be party to the selection of our family's pet, and finding yet another home for puss' offspring.  As we looked at the kittens, only four weeks old, their eyes still closed, Anna wanted the black one, with white boots.

At that time we didn't yet own a car, so we arranged for the owner to deliver our kitten on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.  By the time we left the house we were buoyant, chattering about what we needed to buy for our kitten and what we might name him, as we walked back through the gate, and on to the shops on the High Street.

I am reminded of questions asked by author V. S. Naipaul, in Among the Believers, of an Islamic mullah and hanging judge in the ancient city of Qom, the Islamic intellectual center of Iran, not long after the Revolution.  "What made you decide to take up religious studies?"  Naipaul asked, "How did you become an ayatollah?" He continued to probe, "What was your happiest day?"  Questions that cut to the meat on the bones of character.

As I pondered the last question, I'm struck by how revealing one's happiest day is.  Does one remember a day of accomplishment? From childhood?  Community? Mischief? Delight?

We went into Tesco's and bought some cat food and a little brush.  Next to the Italian grocery store for dried spaghetti and tinned tomatoes, quite different, I discovered, from the ubiquitous English Heinz variety.  Early afternoon we started making spaghetti Bolognese for dinner, sans green peppers, unobtainable in Cheshire in those days, and disdainfully referred to by our green grocer as, 'those Mediterranean vegetables.'

By twilight, as early as 4 o'clock in the northern latitudes, Anna helped set the table.  By six Jim was home and as we were supping on our English-style spaghetti. We decided to name our new kitten Jefferson.  He grew into a marvelous tom, a presence throughout the neighborhood and a vital part of Anna's memories of England.  As was that sweetest of days, a day of thanksgiving whenever I recall it, all these years later.

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