Hippie Squared: The Mother of All Holidays


A blogumn by Jeff Rogers

Every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way (as Tolstoy might say if he did “Oprah”). If you believe movies like Four Christmases dysfunctional families are at their worst during the holidays when all their simmering resentments come to a furious boil.

Not so for the Holman Tribe of East Lansing, Michigan in the nineteen seventies. The rest of the year we were pretty much a mess. But on the holidays, man we sparkled. We stopped bickering, finally remembered what we liked about each other, and did our damndest for a collective good time. And my mom set the tone.

She loved all the holidays, so they all make me think of her, but in different ways. After pancreatic cancer took her in April 2006 my Christmas spirit fled and has not been seen since. Time will heal this wound I know (though I won’t say it heals them all), so it’s okay.

But Thanksgiving, thankfully, has only deepened.

My mom was an anthropologist who loved and appreciated ritual. Each Thanksgiving as the feasting began with the passing of dish after dish, and the mounds of food mounted toward the dusty chandelier, I’d call out: “I love Thanksgiving!” followed by my mom’s rapid response: “It’s my favorite holiday!”

Yet all of the work fell on her. My step-dad Al was a brilliant paleontologist, but helpless in the kitchen. I was a young women’s libber in theory but I was also a kid. So Thanksgiving for me began with parades and cartoons and continued with comic books and running outside to play in the fall leaves or the early winter snow with Ray and Michael.

My mom never made it seem like a chore. She gave us the day and she gave us the feast. She gave us the gift of no worries.

It was a modest and basic feast. Mashed potatoes out of a box. Cranberry sauce birthed from a can. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows and green beans with a fried onion crust on top. But no faddish fillips with the stuffing. No fancy side dishes. The only departure from the tried and true was an apple crisp ala mode because pumpkin pie creeped out us boys.

Still, it was bounteous and abundant and all delivered as if by slow magic. The conversation and jokes and even the old family songs flowed with the gravy, punctuated by sighs and gasps of gluttony gloriously gratified. And we went rounds with that meal. We got downright leisurely.

We were not religious. Not Christian, not pagan, just atheist/agnostic scientists and their kids. My mom was nobody’s mother hen. She was thin and unassuming, not fleshy and expansive like an archetypal matriarch. She never hovered. She rarely hugged. She never had the slightest idea whether we had homework or not. We packed our own lunches and we did our own laundry.

But at Thanksgiving she became a true benevolent mother goddess. She gave freely as the earth gives, without jealousy or stinginess. She indulged, we indulged, and then we all staggered out to the living room where we slumped in our chairs bellies abursting and groaned out our tryptophanic songs of contentment.

So when I think of my mom at Thanksgiving now I’m grateful even for the melancholy. I’m grateful for the holy water in my eyes as much as the big old fat smile on my face. I’m grateful for the gratitude.

When my mom gave Thanksgiving, she gave it so it stayed given.


Photo Credit: David Goehring/flickr.com