Two hours ago, as of this Wednesday night writing, the ground around my back porch was brown and bare and sere. Where only scant weeks ago there was deep color in the New Hampshire woods – an astonishing riot of maple red and oak orange and birch yellow, the likes of which I have never seen before and may never see again, because it was simply that extraordinary – there are now only the skeletal fingers of bare trees holding court over a graveyard of fallen leaves. A few studiously green pines stand the watch, as they always do, but in the main, it is the Autumnal end of things in this particular patch of this particular place.
And then, two hours ago, it began to snow. The East Coast, from the middle of Florida to the middle of Maine, is getting slapped with a good old-fashioned early-winter walloper that is going to perfectly and profoundly screw anyone looking to put the rubber to the road ahead of this Thanksgiving holiday. I feel for them, I really and sincerely do, but the branches of the cherry tree are graced with two inches of latticed snow, the forest beyond is a laden mystery of white, and all I can do is stare out the window and wonder at the exchange of one beautiful for another beautiful as the seasons change right before my eyes.
My 20-month-old daughter spent the morning banging around the house in her usual fashion, taking her shoes off and then demanding they be put back on immediately, all the while running under the floppy Hunter S. Thompson fishing hat that makes her look so much like her fly-fishing great-grandmother that my mother startles every time she sees her grandchild. My daughter categorically refuses to let this hat leave her head. She sleeps with it on, no joke. My genes are weird.
All of her wiggling stomping busybody frantic toddler mayhem stopped, like a needle jumping off a record, when she saw the snow pouring down outside. She pressed her nose to the cold windowpane of the porch door and stared, and stared, her breath fogging the reflection of her chin in the glass. She was born on April Fools Day, and was too young to appreciate her first winter – which might be for the best, as last winter was a stone bastard fully until late May – so this was her first true encompassing of what happens when the world turns white.
On Thanksgiving – weather permitting – we will bundle her up and strap her in and drive to Nelson, a couple of towns over, with a pot of buffalo chicken dip and a piping-hot pan of scalloped potatoes in the back of the car steaming up the windows and driving us mad with hunger from the smell of it all. We will be welcomed into the home of dear friends, warm ourselves by a roaring fire, swap tales of glory and madness and workaday muddling, we will lift a toast to the hosts, to family and friends, and to the glorious game of chance that brought us all together in that place. We are that lucky.
When we sit at table, there will be no place set for Pop, who has gone from us after Thanksgivings beyond memory. In Woburn, there will be no place set for my beloved friend and roommate and partner in crime, who passed last week. At tables in every city and town and village from one shore to the other, places will not be set for those who cannot sit and eat, or join in a laugh, or share a tale, or simply smile, because they are also gone from us. There will be a hole in many tables and many hearts on this Thanksgiving Day, and that is a truth of this life.
Hold tight to who you have in this world, even if you’re down deep in a ditch. I hope someone sets a place at table for you on Thanksgiving, but if not, remember that you’re still here, and if you’re here, it means matters can change for the better, because you’re here. Hold tight to who you have, and tell those who are your heart you love them. Do not let the grass grow under the last conversation you had with one who is a part of who you are. I am here to tell you, from the well of my soul, that it is a savage, brutal shock to lose that chance forever.
We live in a world of shrinking margins, of narrowing visions, a world ruled and ruined by fools. This is the fact of our time, and no one is going to fix it today. Tomorrow, perhaps, but in the meantime, hold close what you hold most dear, and give thanks for the chance of that holding. If you truly appreciate what you have, no matter how mean or meager, you are doing it right. On this day of all days, remember where you came from, contemplate where you are, imagine where you can be, stand stock still a moment, and be thankful that you are here.
“That the powerful play goes on,” Mr. Whitman reminds us, “and you may contribute a verse.”
Contribute a verse. Because you can. Because you are here.