This room itself contains bits and pieces of my childhood holiday memories scattered all around: a needlepoint acrostic of all our names that my mom stitched in the early 80s (before my little sister was born) displayed next to my mom's portrait; a photo collage of snapshots from the early 90s -- in one I'm shown holding a Sports Illustrated with Christian Laettner in the cover; a framed photograph of our entire Stock-Mello family snapped on a Thanksgiving perhaps 20-25 years ago -- that may have been the last time all the aunts and uncles and cousins were together before mom's illness changed us all; a crazy quilt on the Aerobed sewn by my great-grandmother -- she made one for every one of her grandkids, and now we three Mello kids each have one, miraculously saved and intact some 50 years later. The weight of this quilt calms me instantly. The sight of it floods my heart with warmth.
We played tag with the kids at the playground yesterday before dinner, giggling and chasing one another until we all had stitches in our sides (and had to stop to stretch our creaky legs and backs). My boys are so lucky to have this uncle and aunties and grandfather in their lives.
It has occurred to me more than once this weekend how different this is from what most families know. There's no tension or forced togetherness at holidays. There's no need for booze just to get through the day (though a bottle of wine or two does make it more fun!). Nobody comes in at the last minute before dinner or bolts before dessert. We are here, together, hunkered down because we love to spend time together. It's a rare gift. As wacky and grumpy and snarky as we may be apart, we are amazing when we're together. My siblings and I have grown into fully complementary adults. Like this crazy quilt that's held up through decades. Or this needlepoint acrostic with our names woven together. Each of us equal parts serious and silly, with one providing balance for the others whenever necessary. We read each other well, knowing when levity is in order or when it's time to change a subject all together.
We grew up in such a traditional family, with traditional values and traditional traditions. My father has never been one to stray comfortably from "this is how we've always done it." Yet remarkably, we all go with the flow now, and the only tradition that has really stuck is just being together. Such a blessing, really.
Last night we sat around with guitars and a ukulele, humming and strumming and giggling over improv'ed thanksgiving songs. Hokey, goofy, warm. I glanced between my brother and sister at one point and thought "this is a perfect moment; stash it away." They both were smiling their matching brilliant white-toothed smile, eyes framed with a few barely visible lines that hint at years of joy and some periods of intense grief. I hope they felt it too, that perfect moment in our super sibling triangle. I want to always remember them this way, as the singing, smiling, tag-playing full-grown humans that my children adore.
That's a lot to be thankful for.