Even though I was born at the end of the baby boom, one of the ways I know I am an American boomer is that I remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The shock and grief of it is etched in my bones and still quivers in the sacred cells of my body. I was barely four years old on that November day in 1963. I was with my mother, who was attending a tupperware party at a friend’s trailer near where we lived in the mountains of Northern California. While the women learned about saving leftovers, my father and my mother’s friend’s husband went out back for some target practice. I can’t remember how the news arrived - but I do remember the deep shock and grief of the adults, and since I’d been hearing gun shots so close, in my four year old brain, I thought I’d heard the shot that killed him. Grief and shock have a way of doing that, etching collective pain into our bones and jarring the very sacred cells of our bodies. My country (and many around the world) continued in that state of grief and shock as we, as Americans, gathered with family and friends the following Thursday for my nation’s Thanksgiving.
I don’t remember that Thanksgiving in particular. At that point in my life, and for many years thereafter, my family gathered at my Grandma Peggy and Grandpa Ed’s house every year. We also always had extra folk who were far from their families, either in actual geography, or in the landscape of personal relationships. I don’t remember that particular Thanksgiving because what I remember is all the Thanksgivings at Grandma Peggy and Grandpa Ed’s house. I remember the smell of turkey, sage, and thyme, and Grandpa Ed’s pipe smoke. I remember the soft color of Grandma Peggy’s Desert Rose dish pattern, and her pink and black apron. I remember the voices of joy-filled welcome that each person received as they walked through the front door. I remember the cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg on my tongue with each bite of pumpkin pie. All of it swirls as olfactory memory, flashbacks of vibrant color, echoes of sound and lingering taste, a deep warmth and joy etched into my bones and cradling each sacred cell of my body.
Years later my family and friends gathered again for Thanksgiving. It was 1978 and the center of hospitality had moved from my grandparent’s house to my mother’s. Again, I don’t remember that particular Thanksgiving. I just remember the joy etched into my bones and cradling my cellular structure, of all the Thanksgivings at the various homes where my mother lived and hosted our extended family. I just remember the cacophony of voices echoing between the kitchen where magic was happening and the living room, where a variety of opinions were being expressed and wonderful stories were being told. I just remember the shade of my mother’s lipstick and the sweep of her hair. I just remember the smell of garlic and onions, and Grandma Peggy’s White Shoulders perfume. I just remember the hugs from family of blood, and family of choice, and family for a day. I just remember the taste and feel of whipped cream squirting into my mouth, and hoping my brother and I left enough, after doing that several times, to actually have some on our pie.
The following Monday, on November 27, 1978 I took the Greyhound Bus back to college in San Francisco. My roommate, Diane, and some friends picked me up at the station. As we were driving down Market Street news came over the radio that City Supervisor Dan White had walked into Mayor George Moscone’s office and assassinated him, then went down the hall and shot and killed Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first and brightest heroes of our Queer community. My roommate had worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign. I and everyone in the car reeled in deep shock and grief. In those first moments the disembodied voice on the radio bounced through the car etching that shock and grief into our bones, jarring the very sacred cells of our bodies. Over the next few days we poured into the streets with candles and chants, marching from The Castro down to City Hall. The whole San Francisco Bay Area Queer community gathered in communal shock and grief. Queer folk and our allies in the whole country, feeling that shock and grief.
It is 2015. November again brings shock and grief. Around the world shock and grief again etches into bones, cellular structures are again jarred as refugees continue to flee war ravaged Syria. Bones again etched with grief as boys (some barely old enough to grow facial hair) blow up themselves and others in terrorist acts in Beirut, Paris, Bagdad, Cameroon, Nigeria…The global community reeling with shock and grief as we pass images and information one to another through the instant and ever present network of social media making us remember exactly where we were when we heard the news.
And it is again Thanksgiving week here in my country the United States. On Thursday my family of blood and choice, and some just family for the day, will gather at my house as they have now the last decade. I have inherited the hosting from my mother who inherited it from her mother. This Thanksgiving I will again smell turkey and sage and thyme, garlic and onions. This Thanksgiving I will again hear stories being told, and folks being greeted at the door, and opinions being expressed. This Thanksgiving I will again see the soft colors of my Grandma Peggy’s Desert Rose dishes and the shade of my mother’s lipstick. This Thanksgiving I will again taste the spice of pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream. This Thanksgiving I will again hold close people I love. In a few years I may not remember this particular Thanksgiving, but I will feel the deep warmth and joy etched into my bones and cradling each sacred cell of my body.
The warmth and joy can’t erase the shock and grief, but it can help us know Thanksgiving in the midst of it. Blessings on what is etched into your bones, what lives in and around the sacred cells of your body. Blessings on who and what you grieve for, and may you be blessed with thanksgiving.