Giving thanks in many ways

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On this turkey day, I’m thankful that I have more things to be thankful for than things to grouse about.

First and foremost, I’m thankful to have had all three of my children and all three of my grandchildren here for the day. Glad that the Montana side of the family made it home to our mountain hideaway, but sad that the Malibu and French sides didn’t.

The French are living for the next few years in Martinique, where they were thankful not to be in the path of a hurricane. They were also thankful to be out of France during the riots, particularly because my niece’s husband is an inspector with the French police. The Malibu folks, my sister and her son, celebrated with his fiancĂ©’s family. They were thankful, of course, for the pending union of two young people who seem made for each other and have their whole lives ahead of them.

As I was preparing turkey, dressing, ham, roasted sweet and white potatoes, glazed carrots, French string beans and Waldorf salad, I had a moment of panic, realizing that my sister would not appear with two pumpkin pies, brownies, her famous spinach dip and banana bread. I had retrieved recipes and studied them for days. Was it possible I had forgotten how to make pumpkin pie? On Wednesday, I called my sister, who had given me her dairy-free recipe. She said, “What are you doing that for? I’m not going to be there. Just make it your old way.”

My old way meant brown sugar instead of white, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger but no cloves, and real sour cream, instead of soy-based faux cream. I assembled everything and poured the mixture into a Whole Foods Market organic pie shell. When it baked up perfectly without burning the crust or cracking the top, its magical aroma permeating the kitchen, I breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks to the god of pies.

At our turkey table, when everyone’s plates were piled high, I was thankful that my 6-year-old granddaughter refused to take a mouthful until everyone was seated and she had said grace, which she did flawlessly. She even prompted us to hold hands, something new to our tradition. After the amen chorus, my children were silent for another moment, thinking as I was, I’m sure, about George, eating the feast his sister brought to the VA hospital in Westwood. This was the first Thanksgiving in memory that George didn’t join us. He worked taking care of the family’s horses for half a century, after surviving a stint with the Marines in Korea. Diagnosed earlier this year with an aggressive brain tumor, we all know he won’t be with us for any more Thanksgivings. One of us visits him at least three days a week. I’m not sure how the kids were thinking of him at that moment, but I was thankful that he seems to have come to the stage of acceptance with considerable grace. He never was angry or self-pitying, but he seemed to be fighting to do everything for himself, to wheel himself outdoors on every possible day.

When I go, we sit outside and I read poetry, short pieces and humorous quotations. He nods and laughs, so I know he’s still with it, even though his attempts at speech are difficult to interpret. He enjoys the sunlight on his face, listens to the birds, watches the squirrels scurrying over the lawn and through the ancient trees. I try to find ways to tell him how much I appreciate his loyalty, how much he helped my kids growing up, running interference for them with their father when they got into trouble. Photographs help. I’m thankful, too, that they made room for him to stay at the Veterans Hospital. He always seemed proud of his service, even though he refers to Korea as “our dirty little war.”

That thought brought me to give thanks for the brave soldiers who now fight another kind of “dirty little war.” And for our few brave politicians who are speaking out now against staying the course. They’ve opened the debate to encourage new ideas on bringing an end to our occupation of a country few of our leaders really understand. Among the most interesting is a proposal to hold another election to allow the Iraqi people to vote on whether we should stay or go. If a majority votes for us to leave, that would be the perfect solution. We can declare victory and leave because the Iraqis will have said they can take over and run their own country and deal with the insurgents in their own way. What a concept.

For this simple solution, I would be truly thankful.