It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this column that I am anything but a holiday person. I tend to hide from Thanksgiving till New Year’s in the hope that I can escape the worse of the holiday cheer without spoiling it for everyone else. But I do like Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect holiday – food without the pressure of gifts.
In my family it always started with clams casino made by my dad with his own special recipe. I won’t give his secret away but I will tell you he didn’t waste any space with breadcrumbs. Everyone would sit around the table as the clams broiled and our mouths would salivate. The trays of clams would appear and people would dive in while they were still too hot to eat for fear that they wouldn’t get their quota. Out in the kitchen, my mother would yell to not stuff ourselves because she had a big turkey yet to come. Dad always made sure he saved some clams for her.
Most of the people who sat around my family’s Thanksgiving table are gone now. Of all those I called aunt, only one remains and Alzheimer’s is slowly taking her from us. But not yet. She still immediately recognizes my voice when I call and we still can share remembrances of holidays past.
I always felt growing up that I was surrounded by pillars that held my world firmly in place. Those pillars were my aunts. I loved all my uncles but this was the fifties and they just didn’t get involved in the day to day running of the family the way men are expected to be involved today. But oh my aunts, how involved they were – not just with their families but with each other’s families. My mother’s best friend till the day she died was one of her sisters-in-law. Throughout my childhood, I have scattered memories of my mother on the phone with one of the aunts discussing the kids, discussing life, making decisions about how to proceed with everything from Halloween costumes to college applications.
Nowadays it’s popular to say that it takes a village to raise a child. When I look back on my childhood, I think of it as being raised by a committee of very strong women who, at some level, scared us all to death. It was one thing to defy your mother. It was another thing altogether when you realized that defiance would make the round of the aunts and you would be answerable at the next family dinner. It made you think twice about just how much sass was safe to express.
Now there is only one of these amazing women left to share my memories with and I treasure every conversation I can still have with her. I’m grateful that the disease has not yet taken her sense of humor. We can still laugh over what we consider the “Zeccardi” traits in the family. She married into the Zeccardi’s and sixty years later is still railing against some of their more frugal ways.
When I spoke to her recently we laughed about how, when my Aunt Louise’s husband died while they were on a trip to Italy, she completed the trip with him following in a box because to change the ticket would have been to incur additional costs. You can’t make stuff like that up. You can only shake your head in amazement that those genes run in your blood and yet you are still able to overcome genetics enough to put out $4 for a latte.
The other day I was gazing out the window as I fed my birds and saw a moose sauntering down the road. He was in absolutely no hurry. He was still fat from the bounty of summer and seemed to not have a care in the world. He stopped at various shrubs for a nibble, sniffed a neighbor’s mailbox as if to assure himself nothing good had grown on it since his last visit and eventually wandered away at that unhurried pace that leaves lines of cars waiting on busy streets during rush hour.
I thought then how grateful I was to have the privilege of living in Alaska. As much as I miss my family, I think I would miss the moose as much. So this Thanksgiving, as I chow down with friends on dad’s clams casino and nona’s sweet bread, I’ll do it with my family in my heart and my heart in the place I love the best. It’s the perfect formula for holiday happiness. I feel lucky to have it. My holiday wish for all of you is that you are just as lucky as I am.