My fire burns in orange hues
Amid the thankfulness of woods,
And I would be the things I choose
And more than just consumer goods

For life, and loveliness, and loss,
I have awakened now to this:
That much of love is free return
Of our true soul’s

As a kid, Thanksgiving was my favorite non-Christmas holiday. (It seems unfair to count Christmas in the competition, as it has so many things going for it, from a kid’s perspective, that it is essentially a category unto itself.) In the house I grew up in, Thanksgiving consisted of:

1) A large meal, my favorite of the year, which included turkey and stuffing.
2) Playing football in the yard.
3) Watching football afterwards. And
4) Being allowed to start playing Christmas music.

Not too much to it, really. But I loved it.

For around five years, we shared Thanksgiving dinner with the Glasgow family, whose mom was a teacher friend of our mother. Mrs. Glasgow was from Switzerland, and was a wonderful cook, and she and my mom working together produced the meal.

We also had seemingly limitless ripe (black) olives at that meal, and every year, I attempted to eat a few before the meal started. You might think it ironic that I had a tradition of stealing food on Thanksgiving, but ironies like that were lost on me. I just knew I loved black olives. I still do, in fact.

The fact that the meal took hours to cook, and that we could smell it all that time, and that we had to wait unusually long to eat probably contributed to my minor league larceny. But still.

In later years, we stopped having dinner with the Glasgow family (their three kids were older, and had already moved out). We then incorporated another tradition: on the same table we ate dinner on, a large jigsaw puzzle was set up and the family would work on putting it together. Well, everyone in the family except me: I never liked jigsaw puzzles. We would also listen to the now-permitted Christmas recordings, which included some old radio plays of things like “A Christmas Carol” (with Ronald Coleman) and “A Pickwick Christmas” (with Charles Laughton).

Christmas, even back then, tended to bleed into other holidays.

Underneath our traditions lay a view of the world, fundamentally a religious view, but transferable to other contexts. That view was: our good fortune is a thing to be grateful for, as much of it is due to factors outside our control. That hard work, temperance, and prudence are necessary, but not sufficient, things to achieve a measure of security in this world. My mother certainly knew what it was to go hungry, so her form of thanks-giving was more than an academic kind of thing.

Outside of a religious context, the concept of indebtedness is often looked at as a societal thing, and terms like “giving back” are used. I found out in my later years that my parents gave something like one-fourth of their income to charity, notably ones fighting hunger and aiding orphans and people without homes. So their giving thanks took on a tangible form.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving; in the evening, my brother arrived here in Arizona. We will be spending the day today with our mother in the nursing home, and I’ll be headed back home tomorrow. It will be the first time more than two of us have been together for Thanksgiving (albeit a day late) since the old jigsaw puzzle days.

Which is something to be very, very grateful for.

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4 Thoughts to “Indebtedness

  1. I enjoyed reading this! I used to live in a place where the seasons changed and I was surrounded by family but my husbands job had us move to a place where it is always hot and no seasons haha. I love hearing about it because sometimes I forget. Thank you

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