Friday, November 26, 2010

"American" Thanksgiving

Fridays with Susan...

Today, across the border to the south, it's the day after Thanksgiving and known as "Black Friday", the biggest shopping day of the year.  No-one knows for sure if the use of the word "black" is to denote the awful crowds and traffic tie-ups, or whether it's the day in the year that merchants finally cross over the line in their ledgers from red ink to black, but it's there.  Happy shopping today to our American friends, those of you who will wade into the fray in search of bargains galore.  And I hope you enjoyed your turkey dinners with all the trimmings yesterday.  And the football!  Who could forget the football? 

I think our American friends have a really good idea in terms of having one holiday weekend a year that is actually four days long.  Though I'm not an American, this weekend for me is fraught with memories too.  For most of my life, and up until three years before she died, my mom crossed either the tunnel or the bridge which span the Detroit River and earned the bulk of our family income on the American side of the river.  There were huge advantages to that.  She made more money than she ever could have in Canada, and she had opportunities there which would never have presented themselves on this side of the border.  With a Grade 10 education, she started as a clerical worker in an insurance company in one of the downtown skyscrapers, and ended up in the suburbs at another insurance company managing the entire department of actuaries, all of whom had university degrees.

It wasn't Mom's choice to go to work, but my father was never well enough to support the family on a consistent basis and so the needs of a growing family dictated that she take on the role of primary breadwinner.

I hated mornings when Mom would stand at the mirror in her slip, going through the motions of her morning routine.  Between dabbing powder on her face and putting on red lipstick she would direct our morning getting-ready-for-school rituals from there.  "Did you have breakfast?"  "Where are your leotards?  Get them ON!"  I hated it because it meant her departure was imminent.  She wasn't a perfect mom, but I loved her fiercely.  And we were firmly - perhaps a bit too firmly - attached.

Because she worked in the States, and we lived in Canada, Mom didn't always have the same holidays we did and almost all of her working life she had only two weeks vacation - not enough to satisfy the needs of an overly dependant little girl who wanted her mom to be there more than anything else in world.  The worst days were when our national holidays didn't jive.  We always had a day off on Good Friday, for instance, but Mom always had to go to work that day.  The same thing would happen on the Monday of our long weekend in May - and for our Canadian Thanksgiving, too. 

So, even though I had to go to school myself those two days, American Thanksgiving (as it was called in our house and in many houses strung along the border where the traditions of two distinct nations would regularly collide) became my favourite holiday.  Why?  Because Mom stayed home those two days.  It was almost like having a "real" mom.  I knew when I left in the morning on that Thusday and Friday every year, that she would be home when I got there.  And Mom always tried to out do herself each year.  It was like she was trying to make up for all the days she wasn't able to be there and she would try to make those days really special.  We could count on her actually serving breakfast (quite likely fried eggs and toast), making our lunches (we always made our own) and best of all there would invariably be some kind of baking waiting on the kitchen counter when we walked in the door after school.  A few pies, usually schnitz (a little taste of heaven from her Mennonite heritage) and lemon meringue would be sitting on the counter and perhaps a pan of apple or pineapple bars still in the oven and giving off an aroma that must be close to what heaven is like.  Mixed with the baking, the house would smell of Lestoil and hardwood floor wax, and be well on its way to getting a deep cleaning.  The washer and dryer would be humming and she would be deeply involved in some organizational task (Mom was a multi-tasker!) but she would drop everything, fix us a cup of her signature cocoa (NOone could make it like her!) and she would sit down with us and ask us how went our day.  Pure bliss! 

At least that's how I remember it.  (My sister Brenda, who is a regular reader may have some different memories to share!)  There were even more cherished memories formed as we grew into adulthood and had children of our own.  When Mom came to visit, she had a way of making memories that would last a lifetime and beyond.

So Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends.  Now you know how it is that "your" holiday is my favourite one of the year.


Brenda said...

Sadly, I have none of these memories stored up in a bank that I can draw on. I'm so thankful that you do!....and that your words nourish my soul.

Belinda said...

Oh, Susan, What a wonderful gift to have this all come alive for us who read (and write) here. What a treasure to have it on the page, saved to cherish and remember, and for all of us, to glimpse a window into the past that you and Brenda and your brother Davidm share.