On Passing the Turkey


Passing it on.  Thanksgiving was about passing it on.  In one country in North America.  Passing it on.  Inheritence, in the days of vanishing wealth, in the days of vast materialism. 


My dining room table was passed along to me by my grandparents.  I think it had belonged to my grandfather’s father.  I was named after him.  He was born in the decade after the Civil War.  I think there was a time years ago where the family celebrated Thanksgiving at this table.  Soon thereafter my parents were hosting most every holiday dinner.


Turkey.  We had always had turkey on Thanksgiving.  One Thanksgiving when I was about 6-years old, the family photograph appeared on the front page of one section of the newspaper, with my father cutting the turkey.  I discovered once I graduated college that not every family did have turkey.  I think my dad felt like he had worn his religion on his shirtsleeves with that photo, and that his family would always have turkey.  Turkey was always the meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas at the home where I grew up.  But my dad never carved another turkey after the photo was taken.  Maybe he heard from the local PETA group.   


Ties.  Hats.  The generations before mine had men who wore ties and hats.  Maybe it was the influence of John F. Kennedy but I always avoid hats.  Even when the temperature is minus 20 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  But I have been pretty traditional in wearing ties.  On Christmas Eve, until the past few years.  Now I keep the tie in the pocket.  A lot of the rituals that I grew up with are being discarded.  The torch has been passed to a new generation. 


Ties. Hats.  Turkey.  Rituals.  I have been living in the shadows of a Catholic church, since 1987.  A lot like my grandmother.  Since 1991 my view mirrored that of my grandmother’s, when I knew her, with a view of the Catholic church across the street.  She worked for the priests in the rectory, and she lived across the street.  The pastor at the church where I worship had come from that parish was he was a young man.  He wrote one Sunday in his parish bulletin that he was looking for a woman to iron the altar cloth, and all the other things that were ironed, like when he was a young priest.  He referred to my grandmother by name, about 20 years after her death.             


Deoxyribonucleic acid had not been discovered for most of my grandmother’s life.  Or at least what to call it.  Somewhere along the line physicians discovered that family medical history was important.  Genetics can determine life and death.  For cancer.  For arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease.  At the time of Darwin’s writing, nothing was known of this theory of inheritance called genetics.  Her genes could determine my longetivity, and she probably never even heard the terminology. 


The passion.  DNA.  Passing it on.  When that moment of love, when the DNA was formed.  In one moment.  Who would have thought?  The inward and outward signs of DNA. 


Over the river and through the woods.  To grandmother’s house.  The horse knows the way.  The moon revolves around the earth, the earth around the sun as one but many planets.  It took a few generations to discover all of this out.  But the horse knew the way.  The predictability of the solar system.  There was an animal sense about it.  


Rituals.  Rituals were a part of history.  There was a mystery in the rituals.  History seldom has a prominent place in the life of a young person, and because history never had a prominent place at the table, rituals, family medical history, and the meaning were often forgotten, or not passed along.  The family dog often sensed things that your teen-ager never seemed to grasp.  If the world was 10 million years old, the location of the revolution of the earth was known only over the last 500 years, in black and white.   


Thanksgiving was a day that was all about relationships.  And people brought together.  In good times and bad.  It was a day to stop and give thanks and praise.  For the revolutions of another year.  For those of us who are alive.  Together.   Few people ever really talk about passing on ritual along with its meaning.  Few people ever really talk of the mystery in relationships.  Without its meaning, relationships and ritual would just be another motion, in a world still spinning on its regular axis, at its regular speed, in the solar system.  When it came to passing on traditions, real life examples were more affective.  Dining room tables.  Turkey.  Darwin.  The fittest who survive.  Passing on ritual, from loved ones who have passed. 


DNA.  Passing it on.  Seeing it in the kids.  Where the invisible became visble.  That invisible that was felt all along.  The mystery in the ritual.  Was it why I got that table which was now to me an outward signs of mystery.  A Sacrament?  The “seen” in the years before I had figured out the mystery, of the “unseen.”


Tonight an Italian-American brother-in-law and his wife are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.  Everyone is waiting to see if he and his wife prepare turkey.


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