Thursday, November 19, 2015

Memoir Outtake: Thanksgiving

I stared out to the Quarry Lakes as the BART train rolled into Fremont. The small lakes shimmered in the sunlight. A majestic heron stood on a grassy bank. Up above, a V of Canadian geese appeared to fly to the sun. John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” played from my iPod. I picked it because I felt happy and sappy, heading home for Thanksgiving. The song packed an emotional wallop. We had history. Three years before, I had traveled through much of South America by bus. I remember riding through the countryside from Uruguay into Argentina listening to “My Favorite Things.” I stared out the window as these beautiful trees that graced the highway swooshed by. When Coltrane soloed during the song’s outro, I began to cry to myself. The melody he plays during that final verse is excruciatingly beautiful; it sounds like a eulogy, a call of profound gratitude as though Coltrane were ascending into the sun’s light, turning back and expressing through his saxophone: it was a good ride. Listening to him play, staring at that Argentinean countryside, I simply cried because I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, to see foreign lands, to feel such beauty.

On that train ride home to Fremont, I felt like I should feel a profound sense of gratitude given the deathly visitor residing in my chest. Thanksgiving was upon us—a time when I should be extra grateful to be with my family. That time together, gathered around our dining room table replete with steaming plates of yummy-goodness was not something I could take for granted. It never was. 

When I walked out of the station, my dad was waiting at the drop-off curb in his Toyota Rav. I swung the back door open to toss my travel bag in.

“¡Hola papi!” I said.

“¿Hola hijo, cómo estás?” Dad said, smiling.

After I took my seat beside him, I leaned over to kiss him on the cheek as I always did whenever he or my mom picked me up. To my surprise, I didn’t feel sentimental like I thought I would. I was simply excited to be home for the next five days while my sister, Carmen—a.k.a. Chimp-Chimp[1]—was in town. We had a can’t-fail recipe for chillaxation and family-goodness:

·      gobs of turkey gravy & mashed potatoes 
·      my sister Mariana’s yummy homemade vegetarian quiche
·      my homemade mac 'n cheese
·      2-3 days of leftovers, including my favorite: turkey sandwiches
·      mornings and afternoons in our PJs
·      reading in the backyard with our kittie cat curled up on my lap
·      multiple games of Super Mario World
·      our home at full occupancy like when we were growing up         

Once we sat down for our Thanksgiving dinner, I felt a weightiness come over me. My mom sat to my right, my dad at the other end of the table. I was afraid Mom would get a little serious, un poco emocionante, maybe even somber as she gave our food a blessing before segueing into a tangent about my cancer—how we should feel grateful to be together.

But thankfully, there was no such talk at the table. With Andean flute music playing from the stereo, we dug into our feast. We complimented each other’s dishes and ate until we were stuffed.

In the end, our Thanksgiving turned out to be like any other.

And I was more than grateful for that.

[1] That’s the childhood nickname Mariana bequeathed Carmen with. When we were kids, Carmen’s favorite toy was a chimp doll she named Bebe. She used to take him everywhere: to the potty, to stores, to the tub for her baths.

In kindergarten, my mom made Carmen a full-body monkey costume for Halloween with big monkey ears and a long tail. In photos my parents took of her, Carmen stuck out the tip of her tongue and protruded her bottom lip to make a chimpilicious mouth.

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