Thanks in Giving

Thanks in giving. I am giving thanks.

I realize that thanksgiving was a week ago, but this holiday always means so much to me and it always gives me reason to reflect and give thanks for what I have. So below are a few snippets from my thanksgiving this year and from a few days post, and proceeding it.

November 21 2012: At the end of a conversations on the phone tonight with my brother, instead of just uttering the usual "have a great night", or hasty "love ya" I stopped, settled and took a breath.

"Hey, you know, I'm really thankful for you in my life. Thank you for being a part of my family. For being my brother."
     The words tasted sweet and strong, like thick dark chocolate. Staining my throat with truth.
I could feel the pause on the other end of the phone and then the sweet sound of response.
"I love you too sis."
I am so proud that I get to be their sister. Their only sister, for that matter.
My brothers are two of the most incredibly insightful, bright, kind, intelligent, hilarious, creative and deep rooted, (and also tall, I might add) of men.
They have enriched my life in ways they probably will never realize; and the fact that we are all grown now, but that I feel connected to them in more than a thanksgiving day should, that I feel connected to them with red string from my heart to theirs, no matter where any one of us is, is something I am grateful for down into the roots of my being. I have been blessed with the craziest and best and the richest of family.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it's a day to hang out with the people I love the most, and make food for them and be grateful for all the bounty in life that abounds from heart to heart. I love that generally I get to have a table I can invite anyone to, giving the stray friends and neighbors a place to come and feels welcomed, warm, settled and fed.

This is a photograph from Thanksgiving two years ago. It was a day exactly as I described. One of my very favorite Thanksgivings.

November 23 2012: Thanksgiving. Today is black friday and the coffee shop I'm currently sitting in is moderately crowded with the beautifully eclectic young souls of the Denver area. The evening is dark beyond the glass on the front windows, the lamps hanging from the trees cast a soft glow on the sidewalk and the few people who lean there, scarfs around necks, sharing cigarettes and the leftover cheer from the holiday.

I find myself watching people a lot here in the city, their movements, their actions, their needs echoed in the way, she shakes her head or the way he offers her the seat next to him. But I'm not talking about watching people, I am talking about Thanksgiving.

Yesterday was one of the, no, it was, the oddest Thanksgiving I have ever had.
But it really was one of the very best.
(Side note: I also realized, I can't remember a single Thanksgiving from my childhood. It's my favorite holiday, but my only memories of it have been in the past few years. Maybe since my cooking -with-aprons and nesting instincts have kicked in, and I am conscious of loving people by feeding them and finding the deep supreme satisfaction in showing them that I am actively grateful for their existence in my life. Or maybe my family just never celebrated Thanksgiving when I was small. I'm not sure, but back to this years story:

Thanksgiving day November 22, 2012: I woke up to the rustle of my phone vibrating on the bed next to me, and I quickly silenced it, hoping I hadn't awoken my sleeping friend Sasha on the other side of the wall.
I picked up my phone, intending to send out a word or two to the people who matter most in my life. Text after text was sent, separated by the names I hold dearly in my heart and on the small bright screen of my phone, illuminated in the shadows of the dark living room. Each text was a little different, tailored for the heart of the recipient, but each had one thing in common: Thank you, I wrote time after time, thank you for gracing me, thank you for loving me, thank you for shining, for existing in my life. I am grateful for you. Too many minutes slipped by as I typed, my thumbs growing tired. But taking the time to be grateful is, sometimes, the most important thing of all.

After hastily pulling on clothes and downing a few spoonfuls of yogurt I headed for the door, my tall brown leather boots leaving quiet footsteps as I locked the front door behind me and headed down the cement sidewalk. The sky was blue, the clean morning sun warm, but even though, I was grateful for my black fleece jacket and pink scarf engulfing my neck and keeping the nip in the wind at bay.
     I walked down the quiet streets of the neighborhood; feeling peace in the sun warmed streets, the roads quiet and mostly empty. As I rounded the corner, I caught the whiff of someone's turkey cooking.. I could smell hot stuffing wafting out across the undisturbed street and a block later I found the unmistakable smell of pumpkin pie baking.
I have to admit there was a spring in my step.

I approached the address I knew to be my destination, and I knew immediately by the flurry of activity spilling on the sidewalk and volunteers flowing in and out of the doors, which had been propped open, that I had arrived.
 My destination was a small mexican cafe on a street corner called Rosalinda's. (And yes if your up on your news, it is the very same cafe that got all the media attention when they refused to let Mitt Romney come and campaign there)

The next few hours are still a blur in my minds eye, I got signed in and saw my friend Noah, the one who hooked me up with this volunteer position in the first place and set to work bundling plastic wear at a table with a gentleman who's name turned out to be Thomas, who after some conversation told me that he owns 31 subways.
Man, that's a lot of banana peppers.
But he seemed more interested in hearing about my lifestyle and the fact that I live off the grid and am employed as a goat midwife, than talking about the road that got him to that many 5 dollar foot longs.   His face told me a story, his hair graying and his eyes mourning something I have yet to see; his words echoed it, whatever it was, and he quietly told me he was actually lonely, even with all his 31 subways.
     Thanksgiving does odd things to people, giving us time to reflect on a full heart, without the desperation to fill our lives with all the things they say we need. I am grateful to see humanity in peoples eyes, and more so than all the other days of the year, a sense of human camaraderie. 

It took a while to find a person who was alone and who wanted help delivering food out in the city. But finally I found a woman who didn't object to my coming along and reading out addresses and handing out boxes. Her name was Susan. She had moved to Denver when she was 19 and although she had done some living elsewhere this was where she had settled, and this is where her grown daughter called home. She told me all this as we drove along federal, in a soft but practiced strong voice, her long blond hair fluffed and extending past her shoulder like a thick halo, moving as a sheet of insulation, more than a curtain of hair; the stacks of styrophone boxes of food creaking rather ominously in the back of her car.
She was a little lonely too, she said, but glad to be giving.
     We arrived at our first address, a small rundown house with a bare dirt patch in lue of a lawn with a maroon olds mobile sitting dejectedly in the cracked driveway. Susan parked on the slanted street and started up the walk to knock on the door, while I unpacked the right number of boxes from the trunk of her hatchback.
A small boy opened the door, his eyes big and brown in his round face and he blinked at Susan a few times before he disappeared, running back into the dark parts of the house to find someone. By this time I was up the walk and standing on the stoop next to Susan, with a large box in my arms, the smell of turkey and mexican rice and beans wafting out from in between the cracks in the Styrofoam.
A man in clean but well worn blue jeans appeared around the doorframe, tall and most definitely the father to the boy who had opened the door to us. Susan began to explain why we were here, but his face clouded over and he ducked his head dejectedly. Susan quickly switched seamlessly to Spanish, asking if he spoke it, he nodded slightly and she launched into re-explaining herself, where we had come from and why were here.
He swallowed hard and nodded, his eyes on the floor.
    I offered the box I held, stepping carefully over the threshold, holding out the food; he took it, and in the split second he met my gaze I could see the mix of gratitude and shame, thick and shining in his eyes.
His small son stood by the door, and I could feel his big eyes taking in the scene. The little boy wore pointed and striped mexican cowboy boots, shiny and obviously adored. I smiled at him. Knowing that our lives may never touch again, but that he had given me a gift on this day of giving thanks.
The door closed with one more 'bueno' passed between us and my heart felt stretched, aching for this family and for that man's heart.
But my heart felt bigger somehow, too. Somehow I always forget that it changes you to be there and to love on someone who needs it. It's not clean and white and comfortable, this feeding and giving. And I thank God it's not, because it's in eyes like those, that I find the real God. and it;s on days like this that we are all fed from a field that we didn't grow.

The rest of the runs from the first half of the day have blurred, into hard to find addresses and side streets and crudy neighborhoods, screen doors we kocked on that completely lacked screens, and toothless smiles and many, many calls of God Bless, and Happy Thanksgiving.

We made it back to Rosalinda's, the car emptied and found the bustle from the morning in full swing, the resturant full of people walking in and getting seated and fed for free, the line outside assembling food to go, was cheery and I heard over the bustle that we had already fed over 3,000 people.

I felt hungry, the few spoonfuls of yogurt I had eaten hastily before heading out the door this morning, feeling as if they were eons ago, I headed into the restuarant and someone handed me a plate, I stood as out of the way as I could and scarfed down everything on the plate, and man was it good. The beans tasted like Mexico and it made me desperately homesick for a moment for the sun and the sand and my host mama's cooking in the Ejido Johnson in Sonora.

Camera crews had begun to swarm over the pavement and I watched them interview the family as I scarfed down the rest of my lunch.

I found a new person to help with deliveries, Susan having gone home to paint more on her house and cook for her friends.
We climbed into the car and took off. Jaime was a woman with an incredibly kind face and a perky spirit, who was delighted to be able to help, and didn't seem to mind having a complete stranger hopping in her front seat as we took off. Our first set of deliveries were simple enough, involving one incredibly adorable todler standing at the door watching us bring box after box to the front door, his big brown eyes wide in wonderment at the two white women bringing his family so much food.

Our second run was slightly more eventful, I carried three sets of meals into apartment complexes, the first just up the stairs to a clean and kind faced man who thanked me and blessed me and sent me on my way, asking I closed the front door when I went out.
The second two addresses had two very interesting things in common, something Jaime pointed out, they were both apartment buildings and in both case the house number was 333. I believe in the magic of numbers but that one especially felt weighted. We almost wondered if one of them had been a typo, but no, we found the buildings standing in wait for me and my delivery, while Jaime waited in the idling car, so we wouldn't get a parking ticket. The first building was clean and looked well cared for, although the entryway reeked of pot and cigarette ash and the man who held the door for me, leered at me with eyes that spoke of darkness and danger. I felt sweaty, even though I knew I was fine, as I waited for the elevator, I silently prayed."Please give me wisdom and courage and please keep me safe"
I tried to take a deep breath, steadying myself. This sterol but uncertain feeling hallway was a long way from the jagged mountains I know as home.
Just then a woman rounded the corner pushing a small shopping cart, "Lord am I glad to be home!" She declaired and her face practially shone, "Oh is the other elevater out agian?" She smiled redily at me, her smile so genuine it lit up the hallway, I nodded and that seemed to be all the incentvive she needed to tell me where she was so glad to be home from.
I felt warm and safe.
"My brother just won't eat thanksgiving unless I cook it, his poor wife has no confidence, he just simply won't eat it! So I went and helped them cook theirs and now I'm home to cook my own turkey. Lord"
I smiled. She smiled, her large thanksgiving sweater hanging off her brown frame in a loving way. I love how much thanksgiving gives us such an excuse to speak to each other.

Fast forward a few more incredible mishaps and conversations and deliveries and you've got me leaping back into the car, the last delivery of the day given out, delivered to a toothless man named Earl who had thanked me and blessed me before I headed back out down the human smelling hallways to the sound of James brown singing his heart out echoing off the fluorescent lighted ceiling.
Back in the car I looked down at the clock on Jaime's stereo and it read 3:33.

That was some kind of magic, that was.

Back at the restaurant everything was cleaned up and done, so I walked home, the empty streets lined with cars and a few kids tossing footballs around.

I showered and took a nap (all good thanksgivings include naps) and then I was off to my next thanksgiving, one where I was a guest. The twenty minutes between me and my dear friend Sasha's mother's house was quiet and fairly uneventful, and I found my way to her townhouse without mishap.
I'm proud to say my knowledge of the city is growing.

Here's a little side note my wonderful friend Sasha told me about the Russian culture. Apparently the Russian culture does not withstand acquaintances, not fair weather friends of any kind; instead you are either a stranger, or you are part of the family.
and on this wonderful thanksgiving day I had the extreme pleasure of getting to be a part of Sasha's family.

The door was opened and I was ushered in. Sasha's mom is tiny and beautiful and as she gave me a hug, I noticed the other faces filling the room; standing behind her was her friend also called Sasha and his son also known as Sasha and Sasha's brother. It was confusing.
 I removed my boots and was pointed towards slippers with tiny bows in the front. It is also Russian custom to always remove your shoes and wear slippers. Sasha's brother was wearing slippers in the shape of green turtles.

We dithered over the turkey, hoping it was finished cooking and then we set the table waiting for my Sasha to arrive.
The food was incredible, and I felt as if I was swimming in the Russian language, the banter and jokes mostly going over my head but the feeling of warmth and family was completely present.

This is a Russian dish called Harring in a Fur Coat with 5 layers of (potatoes, grape seed oil, harring, cooked beets, mayo and capers) It's amazing.
Our beautiful turkey bird.

Russian chop salad

Getting a lesson on how to properly drink Vodka...

Breath out... drink.. 

Breath out again.. eat pickled tomato..  

Beautiful Sasha in the kitchen

Sasha senior with his Vodka

Mother and daughter

 Definition of gratitude from Wiki:
The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

It was an incredible thanksgiving. One I won't ever forget. I am so thankful to be so blessed by so many incredibly open hearted, kind, generous and humerous souls who so gratiously have taken me in, fed me, loved me and taken me as their own. My heart is forever grown.


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