Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays: I love cooking the entire meal; families all over the country are getting together to laugh and rehash memories; it is also a day that reminds us to count our blessings, a necessary part of our emotional and mental health. However, this Thanksgiving I made my meal while shedding bitter-sweet tears. I was saddened by the thought of all my loved ones so far away this year, while thankful for another year with my son. I chuckled at the memories of holidays past, while distressed that my family has been separated by miles and unforgiven words and actions.
I miss my family so much. Even though I know I am exactly where I need to be right now, I’ve been longing for the company of those who know me and have loved me my entire life. I’m thankful that I could be with Ian and David for Thanksgiving; the three of us form the smallest part of my family. But I deeply missed the Thanksgivings that included my girls, my brothers, my mom, aunt and uncle, cousins, and grandparents.
This year, for many reasons, I’m feeling the loss of their presence in my life. I still miss my grandfather and grandmother so much. The pain of losing them all those years ago becomes amplified during the holidays. However, remembering the beautiful role they played in my life soothes my soul. My mother is an incredibly strong woman who has been my biggest support through the trials of the last few years. Nicole has been out of the house for a few years now, but that fact doesn’t lessen the pain that I can’t wrap my arms around her during the holidays. This is the first Thanksgiving at home without Carol Linn. She was in Argentina last year, while we were in Florida. Her absence is most deeply felt because our last few years have been so tumultuous; my heart aches to create better memories with her.
But there are a few other people I haven’t written about yet; they helped shape who I am today, and I can’t help but to feel nostalgic during this time of year. This is when we would all get together to break bread, drink, and laugh together. I am blessed to have all of them as family.
#15: My Older Brother Vele
I idolized Vele for most of my growing-up years. He seemed to know exactly what to say to people and how to get his voice heard. I remember him teasing me mercilessly. The one time I mocked him when he was home from college, after he told his college girlfriend he loved her, he took off his sock and shoved it in my mouth. As gross as that is, it still makes me chuckle. It’s one of the stories I tell my students, so that they know that even negative experiences shape our personalities 🙂
One of the strongest holiday memories I have of Vele is when we were playing charades, the boys against the girls. We were giggling over the fact that Vele picked Sodom and Gomorrah to have to act out for his team. We didn’t think they would ever get that answer. Our biggest oversight, however, was not connecting the shots of tequila we were all doing with the story. Vele stood up for his turn, licked the side of his thumb, and turned into a statue. Instantly, the boys shouted out “Sodom and Gomorrah!” giving them a new 3-second record. It was just another reason I adored him and was irritated by him at the same time.
In 2007, my brothers and I traveled to Macedonia together when our father died. Vele impressed me with how well he retained his ability to communicate in Macedonian and how he was able to finalize all the paperwork for my father’s estate in another language. At that point, there was no denying that my golden-boy brother had become an incredible man.
That week was also memorable because we stayed in the same small hotel room for a week. Every night the three of us said goodnight to each other, giving homage to the Waltons.
That week was cathartic for me: We laughed; we cried; we made amends with the father who filled our lives with pain. The experience united us as siblings and opened a path for a new relationship as adults.
#16: My Younger Brother Jim
For most of my youth, I treated Jim like my own living doll, which I’m sure bothered him to no end. The five-year difference made him the perfect size to fit into my old dresses (oh, what I wouldn’t do for one of those pictures now 🙂 ). Regardless of how I used him to try out new make-up ideas, I didn’t do it out of spite. I truly adored him then, as I do now.
My father used to call Jim the diplomat; he could convince anyone to agree to just about anything. One instance in particular was for his high-school graduation party. He went to all of our neighbors’ houses and invited them to our house for his party. When he came back home, I asked why he wanted them to come to his party. He said if they came, the more the merrier; if they didn’t, which he doubted they would, they wouldn’t call the cops on him because he invited them to the party. I thought he was crazy, but his plan worked. I think one family came, and no one called the police.
Last Thanksgiving we were able to spend time with Jim and his family in Florida. We enjoyed Harry Potter World together (I almost threw up on him during one of the rollercoaster rides), and we had a fun day getting slimed at the Nickelodeon poolside. As fun as our time together was, the best part of that holiday was seeing what an incredible father Jim had become. His children are beautiful, respectful, and display the confidence that only the unconditional love of an adoring father can give them. Jim’s dedication to his family blessed my soul.
#17: My Aunt Mary
Aunt Mary is my mother’s sister. She was young enough to be like an older sister to me, but old enough to set me straight, if needed. The one thing I appreciated most about her when I was growing up is that I could talk to her about anything, especially the things I didn’t feel I could talk to my mother about. She was always available for me and helped to shape much of the way I see the world. Aunt Mary has such a unique gift: She combines wisdom with humor. Most of my memories of my time with her are filled with laughter.
The strongest holiday memory I have is of playing Trivial Pursuit, the boys against the girls again. The final question to win the game was “What was the name of the horse in the song ‘Jingle Bells’?” At first we thought it was an impossible question because the name of the horse wasn’t in the chorus. Of course, the boys teased us with “They’re never going to get this.” Aunt Mary and I looked at each other determined to figure it out. We started singing, “Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh. O’er the fields we go, laughing all the way. Hahaha! Bells on Bob-tail ring!” We stopped there and looked at my brother’s face. We knew we found the answer, “Bob-tail!” we sang out. That is one of our sweet, triumphant memories together.
Another beautiful moment was at Nicole’s birth. My aunt was my coach and stayed by my side when I was about to become a single mother. Even though our time together is rare, when we are together, it’s as if no time has elapsed. My Aunt Mary is a blessing in my life, a life that would not be the same without her.
#18: My Uncle Nick
Uncle Nick is my mother’s brother. He was like an older brother to me as well, so much so that I have a hard time calling him Uncle Nick. I think one of the biggest gifts my uncle gave me was a love for music. He introduced me to every amazing band that came out from the 60’s-80s. My appreciation of music—all genres—is still a beautiful part of my life because of him.
Uncle Nick is also an incredible photographer. Our lives are recorded through his pictures. As annoyed as we used to get with his constant picture taking, it is so appreciated now because we have images of our lives where the memories may have faded. That in itself is a huge blessing in my life.
One of my favorite holiday memories of Uncle Nick was when he came home from an office Christmas party. We were at my grandparents’ house, and, instead of walking through the door of his own house, Nick rang the doorbell. I opened it and there was Nick, with a hilarious drunken grin on his face, holding gifts in his arms. He shouted, “Merry f—— Christmas!” My brothers and I fell to the ground laughing. We had never seen him like that, and the memory of Uncle Nick shouting it the rest of the night fills my soul with laughter to this day.
He also loved to capture moments on audio tape. One holiday he recorded, to everyone’s amusement, my confusion over 60 seconds vs. 1 minute on the microwave. I will admit, I was a little tipsy, but I still don’t understand why we can’t put something in the microwave for 100 seconds. That’s definitely a flaw in the system 🙂
The older I get, the more precious my time is with every family member. When we are young we take life for granted. As we get older and we watch our loved ones slip away, we know that life is precious. My family is so important to me, and I hate missing out on time with them. However, I know I can always go back home, no matter how far away I am. If I can’t physically be with my family, I have my memories, and the knowledge that they have all blessed me in beautiful and lasting ways.
I’m also thankful that Jason Mraz wrote the perfect song for how I’m feeling right now, and that he shot the footage when he was at Red Rocks in Colorado.