I'm actually amazed that I haven't re-posted this entry from November 2007 before now. It's been 10 years since this definitely-not-great experience, and Coffeewife and I still talk about it every once in a while. It was just a crummy, lonely sort of day for us where by the end we just said "screw it" and ate comfort food out at a restaurant. Read on to hear the rest, and may you find yourself in loving company this Thanksgiving.
This is the story of the Worst Thanksgiving
Ever...at least as my wife and I remember it. There are many
Thanksgivings that are probably worse than this, but at least as our
Thanksgivings go, this one was The Worst.
year was 2003, the place was St. Louis, Missouri. That September I had
started my time as student pastor at a large UCC church right down the
road from the seminary. Coffeewife's time had been occupied for some
time at a local children's psychiatric hospital which was right up her
alley in terms of background and career aspirations. I think that's
enough of a setup.
at which I was serving held a worship service on Thanksgiving Day,
followed by a traditional meal in their parlor. The whole thing would
start mid-morning and finish shortly after noon. Since I was the low guy
on the totem pole, I was put in charge of organizing and leading this
service. This was no shock to me, so I began to put the thing together.
Coffeewife's reaction to this news is lost to my memory, but there was
some measure of understanding that I as the scrub had to perform this
thing. So any plans to head back to Ohio had to be scrapped, at least
for that day.
had the entire day off, so we began evaluating our options for after I
would complete my duties at the church. One option would be to visit
friends of her family who still lived in the area, but we'd done that
the year before and hadn't been keen on not knowing very many people at
that gathering. Another option would be to wander to the seminary's
commons for a student-organized family potluck sort of thing. This was
one toward which I leaned, just because I figured we'd know more people
and would be the most comfortable.
service went fine. Coffeewife's experience less so. She sat by herself
in a pew with what seemed a 10-foot radius of avoidance around her
(others' avoidance, not her own). The tipping point for this part of the
day was someone approaching her afterwards to make introductions and
then following up with, "Oh, you should come on Sunday mornings!" Of
course, she had been coming for almost three months by that point. This
was one of the last times she attended that church.
the meal, we headed home to try to figure out how to make the most of
the rest of the holiday. Unfortunately, we weren't able to come up with
something. The time of the seminary potluck drew near, and began to
pass. In a moment I'm now not very proud of, I pretty well dragged her
to this gathering which, at that point, had been raging for a half hour
It was here that it
began to dawn on me that the seminary community was beginning to pass
me by. I was, after all, in my final year at this point. A lot of the
people with whom I'd really hung out had graduated, and many of those
from my own class had gone home for the weekend. This gathering was
mostly made up of students from the first- and second-year classes, and
it was very apparent that this was especially geared toward families
with children. Coffeewife and I picked over the lukewarm leftovers at
the head table, ate largely in silence with the sounds of children all
around us, and left after couldn't have been longer than 20 minutes.
we had had two Thanksgiving meals without any real Thanksgiving
connection to others. It wasn't that we'd spent the day alone...but we
had spent it in loneliness. We were both 500 miles away from our
families and despite anyone's best case for what constitutes family and
how the church is also our family and blah blah blah, those settings had
not been very familial or familiar to us. With the time change,
darkness had settled in early, but darkness seemed to have creeped over
our holiday much much earlier. This had not gone well.
this is where my memory of the day gets a little hazy. One thing for
sure is that we decided we wanted to be anywhere but on campus in our
shoebox apartment...we needed to get out, and fast. The other thing for
sure is that we ended up at Friday's with a table full of appetizers and
desserts and even a toast: "Here's to salvaging Thanksgiving" or
something like that. We may or may not have gone to a movie before we'd
ended up there, but even after a little 'net research on what came out
around that time, nothing has jogged my memory. Still, by that point we
were looking for some comfort activities to save our holiday, and
mozzarella sticks and vanilla bean cheesecake seemed to placate that
desire. By that point we could even begin laughing about how ridiculous
the day had turned out to be.
a lot of people's standards, this was not really the Worst Thanksgiving
Ever. But on a day traditionally spent with the familiar, the
comfortable, the affirming...the best that we could do for ourselves
that day was Friday's. It wasn't that the food was prepared badly or
that there was a big flareup at the table...it was simply that we were
far away from where we wanted to be, and it wouldn't have been so bad if
the day's reminders hadn't been so brutal.
suspect that most other people's Worst Thanksgivings Ever are
variations on this theme: being far from home. When "home" is defined as
the ones you're with and who create that space of warmth and safety to
be yourself and to share that space with little reservation, we were far
from home that day.
wonder how many people will be far from home this year, either
physically or emotionally, and how a home may yet be possible for them.