Hippie Squared: Family Thanksgiving with Friends

Jeff RogersThanksgiving is by tradition spent with family. But in a place like Los Angeles, particularly, many of us are far from our families, but among friends who become our local families.

I’ve been in Los Angeles a long time, and while I’ve often gone back to Michigan for Christmas, I’ve only rarely gone back for Thanksgiving.

For a few years there a group of friends from Michigan who had all moved out here would gather for Thanksgiving, and that was nice. As I became more entwined in a new life here, though, I began to develop of group of local friends with whom I had more in common at that time: artists, poets, writers. They reflected what I was becoming, not where I had come from.

Getting a new group of friends can be hard. One can become divided. Sometimes you grow into a new group of friends, but you rarely, truly outgrow the old—certainly not if there was any depth to those original friendships. If you can gradually meld the two groups that helps. Invite them all to parties consistently and eventually they’ll inter-mingle and they will probably blend well over time.

Anyway, the new group of friends was originally centered around Lani and Steve, Shelley, Harold, Rolly, Kimberley, and Barbara Romain and Chris Peditto. Over the years I’ve spent many a Thanksgiving with those people and others in that circle in various combinations. But I courted that group of friends for some time before I truly felt like I belonged.

Barbara is an artist, and she and Chris in particular are close to my wife Elise and I now. Not long ago Elise and I were at Barbara and Chris’s house. She rotates her paintings on the walls, new ones, old ones, big ones, small ones. Her paintings are an autobiography of sorts, and on this particular occasion she had a painting depicting a Thanksgiving dinner with that group of friends.

There were caricatures of them around the table. I could pick out who everyone was, except one guy off to the side, who looked a little like me, long hair, beard and glasses. But it confused me, because I knew I hadn’t been at that Thanksgiving. In fact, I remembered it as a particularly lonely Thanksgiving. I’d been invited to Chris and Barbara’s, but my loyalties were divided, because I’d been invited also to Thanksgiving with the Michigan friends. I might have been without a car then, that might have been why I didn’t go to both. Or maybe it was that I was worried about hurting the feelings of the Michigan friends; I probably also didn’t know if I’d really be missed among the new friends.

So though I felt at home with the old friends, it was comfortable, I knew that I was loved there, it seemed like I had less and less in common with them. And I really wanted to be with my newer poet and artist friends, with whom I was spending more and more time, and with whom it seemed like I never ran out of new conversations.

I think that was the last year I spent only with the old friends. I think there was a transition year where I hit both feasts, before the Michigan friends dissipated and I settled in with the new friends.

But as I was looking at that painting of that long-ago Thanksgiving, I asked Barbara, “Who’s that?” pointing to the figure that looked like me. “That’s you, of course.” “But I wasn’t there that year.” “Yeah, but we all really missed you, so I drew you in anyway. You were there in spirit.”

To have that old longing answered years later in a painting moved me. It sent a wave of love back through time to wash over that partly pleasant but mostly lonely old Thanksgiving, and that feeling of warmth and love gave me a gift for which I was immediately thankful and still am. I and later Elise and I have spent many a Thanksgiving with Chris and Barbara and that circle; not every year — there have also been years with various branches of family and different mixes of friends. But the warmth and the feeling of being with family that I have with that group of friends who have become my local family only deepens, it cannot fade. It has long ago passed beyond that point.