(This appeared the week of thanksgiving in the Cambridge News… between the time it was written, and the date of publication, my mom fell, broke her hip, and nearly died of a horrible pneumonia infection. As of today, she has recovered from the infection, and had successful hip surgery this afternoon.)
“Everybody Loves Raymond” is one of my favorite TV programs, because while it is very comical, there is also an element of truth in everything that happens. They take things people do in real life, and tweak them up just a bit to make them funnier, and make us laugh, even though when those things happen for real, they’re not that funny.
There are several Thanksgiving episodes of “Raymond” that make fun of all of our families. The obsession with having a perfect meal, the fixation on football, the chronic over-eating, the inevitability of relatives getting cranky with each other… it’s as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as turkeys are.
The family I grew up in was pretty low key, so any recollections of conflict I can dredge up from childhood came in the form of the occasional sarcastic comment. We were all capable of snide remarks or passive-aggressive sighs, but my dad was the least likely to go down that road. He was in the best humor on Thanksgiving because he had nothing to do in all the preparations. My mom worked all morning to put a perfect meal on the table, and was almost too tired, beyond the ability to enjoy it by the time it was served.
I think I inherited my emotional state from her. I know that she cried more than once at Thanksgiving, and I find the holiday to be more and more moving each year. When you’re ten years old, you take everything for granted, if you’re lucky enough to be in a stable family. Once you hit middle age, you realize that the wonderful gifts of family, a home, health… they cannot be taken for granted. They are all fragile and tenuous in the grand scheme of things.
Having family come together – whether it is our kids coming to our home, or journeying to visit our families – becomes more special with each season that passes, because as we age we come to realize such experiences are really fleeting.
So, when Debra Baronne – Raymond’s wife – becomes so agitated that she drops the uncooked turkey, and after several failed attempts to grab the slippery little devil, flings it into the oven, I laugh, because I’ve seen my own wife worry about being judged over the year’s biggest meal. When the men retire to the couch, and unfasten belts and pants, groaning with something between satisfaction and pain, I laugh, because I’ve been there, and will be again.
And, when the characters come to realize how thankful they are for each other, and for all they have, despite, or perhaps because of all their flaws, quirks, and imperfections, I smile. It’s not hard to find things to be unhappy about these days, so I’m grateful for this one day each year – especially this year — where we have the opportunity to focus on our own gratitude.
Now, please pass the stuffing.