The Evolution of My Thanksgivings, by Debi Strong

Debi Strong, our editor here at ChinaSprout, has chosen to share some of her thoughts and memories about the Thanksgiving celebrations in her life. Before you sit down to devour your turkey this year, read about how her feelings have evolved, from her childhood in New York City to last year's trip to Guangzhou.

s a child, Thanksgiving was always a favorite holiday of mine, filled with  food, family, and fun, in spite of our family's many assorted dysfunctions  (but that word hadn't even been invented yet).  It was still a magical time  of year in New York City when I was growing up--the Christmas trees were  going up on Park Avenue, the department store windows were being decorated  with toys, Santas, and candy canes, and the air was filled with the promising  excitement of an approaching holiday season.  This was all back in the 60s,  before I had to buy all the presents and long before I gave any thought to  how crowded the streets and sidewalks became during this time of year.

Years later, older and much more jaded, I would still make the pilgrimage  back to New York from Colorado with my daughter Tracy in tow, because she had  to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in person, at least once.  My  sisters and I, our families, and assorted relatives would gather at my Mom's  place, we'd visit, laugh, argue, stuff ourselves, and then go for long walks  in Central Park, weather permitting.

As the 80s drew to a close, life got busier, the family spread out even  farther, and my Mom's death in 1989 sort of sealed the fate of our family get togethers. She had held all our various dysfunctions together in a fragile grip. Little did we know that 1988 would be our last Thanksgiving together.   It also happened to be the first and last time we videotaped the event.  As I watch that tape now, I think, "We all looked so good!  (And so young!)."  Tracy was adorable at six.  My middle sister's first son was just a few  months old, and not happy at our first attempts to feed him cereal.  My  sister was not taking his rejection well at all, and, being human, took her  frustrations out on the rest of us.  There was a lot of tension, you can  still feel the undercurrent on the tape, but then there always was tension  when we all got together.  How would we have acted differently if we'd known  it was to be our last Thanksgiving with Mom?

With her loss, we all drifted off in our own directions. Thanksgivings in  the 90s were oddly ephemeral--attempts at recreating a sense of family that  had long been lost, or perhaps had never really existed.  No matter how large  and eclectic a crowd I gathered at my table --basically every soul I knew who  had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving--something was missing.  The food was  great, the company was fine, but no matter how grateful I was for all I had,  a certain sadness lingered over the day. There was an emptiness I couldn't  seem to fill.

In 1998, however, things began to change with our initiation of the process to adopt a little girl from China.  As it happened, my husband's job took the  three of us to New York City once again for Thanksgiving. But instead of  staying at my Mom's place, as we always had for NYC visits, we stayed in a  hotel. All of us in one room for one week.  Tracy had brought a pile of  baby-naming books and had mandated, in her own sweet, adolescent way, that  this would be the time to pick her new little sister's name.  We all  dutifully went through the books, marking our favorites and comparing them  late in the evenings when Richard got back from his work at nearby Madison  Square Garden (he got to spend his days working on the production of "A  Christmas Carol," with Roger Daltrey!).  The week progressed, but we had yet  to all agree that we liked a name.  It was tense--everyone thought their  choices were the best.

Finally, somewhere along the line, one of us found the name, "Brenna."  It  was a Celtic name meaning either "raven" or "maiden with long dark hair."   Miracle of miracles, we all liked it!!  (I think it's funny now that we can't  even remember who found it first.)  And so on Thanksgiving Day, 1998, we let  friends and relatives know what our new daughter's "American" name would be.   We ate our meal at my second ex-stepmother's house in New Jersey, with my  half-sister and her "alphabet city" friends who thought that the more Jack  Daniels you added to the sweet potatoes, the better they would taste (for the  record, this is not true).  As we rode the bus back to Port Authority later  that night, we had no idea where Brenna was, or if she had even been born  yet, but we knew her name--we had already claimed her as our own! 

Amazingly enough, exactly one year later, on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, Richard and I were high in the air over the Pacific Ocean on our way home from Guangzhou, PRC, with little Brenna Xiaoxiao in our arms.  (It was Tracy's  senior year of high school and she had opted not to take the trip with us.)  In our jet-lagged but happy hearts we now held a bright new meaning for Thanksgiving.  Later, after too many hours in the air, and several hours of  driving up into the mountains in near blizzard conditions, we finally arrived  at our house and behold, another miracle was waiting: Tracy, who had never  before cooked a single meal for us, had prepared an entire traditional  Thanksgiving feast!  She had been sitting forlornly, waiting for us and her  new little sister to arrive -- which we finally did, two hours later than  expected. Exhausted as we all were, we were grateful too--for getting home  safe and sound, for Tracy's hard work to welcome her new mei mei, and for the  true beginning of us all, that night, as a "foursome forever family."

And now, as we prepare to celebrate the first Thanksgiving of the 21st  century, I know that this holiday will never be the same for any of us. It  has evolved in a circle, like so much of life has a tendency to do. From my  childhood memories, through Tracy's memories, to what will now be Brenna's  memories of our holidays together.  Yes, I still miss my Mom and the  nostalgic Thanksgivings of my past that I think have grown more intimate in  my fantasies than they ever really were. But now I know she's watching us and  smiling over how far we've come on this Thanksgiving Day.  And I've learned  that it really doesn't matter with whom or where you celebrate the holiday--it's the feelings within that make it Thanksgiving.  And, one more  thing: never assume that the people you are spending the holiday with will be  there next year.  If you treat everyone at the table as though you may never  see them on Thanksgiving again, I promise you that it will truly be a  memorable occasion filled with generosity, love, and gratitude, the way it  was always intended to be.

Debi Strong