Blessings in disguise
We are getting ready to head out to my nephew’s house for Thanksgiving Day dinner. The house will be filled with people and the smells of the season will wrap around us as we enter.
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite times of year. But the way we celebrate has evolved over the years. As a young boy, I remember bountiful feasts at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a large house with many rooms and the dining room was big enough for a very large family. Truly, it was a blessing all by itself. No one ever left that room hungry.
But times changed. I left for the Navy when I was seventeen and had my first Navy Thanksgiving at Great Lakes in the chow hall. The food was good but I learned pretty quickly that the magic of thanksgiving was not just the food but the people.
That lesson would be learned year over year for the next few decades. The most memorable celebrations were when I was with one of the various crews that I served with. Underway thanksgiving on a submarine is the very best way to appreciate the people around you. No distractions, no place to hide, no drama other than the drama of being away from your real family.
But the real family you sat next to on hard benches was as close to real as you will ever know. Everyone shared the same things. Not enough space, not enough freedom to see the sun, and with carrying degrees, loneliness that could only be understood by men hundreds of feet under the water on patrol.
Preparations for the meal would start the night before. The night baker was busy at work with unbelievable offerings of desert and breads. The mess cooks on the boat would be up early too working on the potatoes and side dishes. The cook would make sure the turkeys were prepared with just the right seasoning. All day long, the smell of the food would permeate the boat. Imagine the smell at your grandmother’s house and multiply it by a thousand.
By the time the meal is ready, the anticipation is off the charts. We actually had candles on a couple of the boats and someone had planned well enough to have some paper decorations around the mess decks. The food would come out family style heaped onto platters. Even the most grizzled old salt would smile a bit as the cooks work was laid out in front of them.
One of my favorite memories was watching the main cook stand at the galley door just so he could see the expressions on the faces of the men as they ate. There was a look of pride that shined in his face. It was a look I saw a number of times through the years. The Navy submarine force truly had the best cooks in the service.
Then one day, I was no longer in uniform.
I love my time with my bride and we have had a lot of really nice celebrations over the years. We never had children so we look forward to time with the nieces and nephews. After many years of traveling, we came home to near where we grew up. The “family” dinners were pleasant enough but nowhere near as memorable as they were either growing up or in the Navy. This is not a slap at the family, it’s just a recognition that all of us moved on and recreating what we once had at my grandmother’s house has just never worked out.
Now, we are the disappearing aunt and uncle. The occasional phone call. The even rarer visits. When we go to the kids places to eat, we are normally off to one side and hardly ever part of the conversations. I think back to the many times when we were younger and the long lost aunts and uncles who also went through this time. They just slowly disappeared.
It’s okay. For now, I have some really great memories. I think the blessing in disguise as you get older is seeing things that happened forty or fifty years ago with much more clarity. The days are going so much faster now and little things like being alone are not all that bad. Less drama. Less conflict. Less time away from things that make you happy and comfortable. The only fear I have is being left by myself if Debbie happens to go before I do. I am afraid of what will happen if that is the case.
But I wanted you to know how thankful I am today.
I have some of the very best memories I could have ever imagined. Every imaginary story I used to make up when I was a boy has been far surpassed by the actual events of my life. I have travelled around the world, seen some pretty great things, and experienced life that others cannot even imagine. But most of all, I am thankful to my best friend that has put up with me all these years and to my true brothers and sisters that shared their life with me.