My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.
I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.
Another installment, then.
Thanksgiving is probably the most unchanging and constant holiday this country has to offer.
At Halloween, the costumes differ from year to year.
At Easter, the kids outgrow their fancy clothes from year to year, and maybe the Easter basket holds some new or different treat.
And of course Christmas is defined, at least in part, by that year’s gifts. If you have a snapshot with gifts in it, you can extrapolate how old any given member of your family needed to be to receive that particular present.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, can only be judged based on how many members of the family consort are there to take part in the festivities, and how gray they look compared to other years.
Thanksgiving snapshots fall into the realm of The Eternal. All across America, there is One Turkey, and One Boat of Gravy, and One Tureen of Mashed Potatoes, forever and ever, world without end, amen.
The person who said “you never step into the same river twice” never took part in an American family Thanksgiving. It is the same river of lumpy gravy every year, as long as the background setting (your grandparents’ house) does not significantly change, and as long as cirrhosis or cardiac arrest or diabetes do not carry off any of the principal players.
(Someone once quipped that Thanksgiving is the one holiday at which all thoughts of sex disappear. And so it is — a rejection of the outside world, and an embrace of the family structure you have already built for yourself. Dressing in brown sweater vests and overeating on turkey and pumpkin roll doesn’t make anyone feel sexxay, either.)
Here, then, is an underexposed picture of a family gathering. It is probably Thanksgiving, though the labeling is not crystal clear.
If you are missing a year of Thanksgiving from your family photo scrapbook, feel free to borrow this one. It will do as well as the real photo — the long-lost one with your actual family members in it.
The turkey and gravy tasted the same to our family as your turkey and gravy did to your family. It was doubtless an hour or two late and maybe a little on the dry side, as yours was. There was football on a bulky TV beforehand, and pie and wiped-out conversation afterward, just like at your house in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Idaho.
There is no chandelier in America powerful enough to cast real light on the withdrawn, somnambulent suburban parade that is Thanksgiving.
Pass the cranberry sauce, won’t you?
Stamford, Connecticut, 1979.