OK, this promises to be a somewhat sentimental and sappy post, but I can't help it. This is where my head is every year on Thanksgiving.
11 years ago, I was living in Las Vegas with my husband (then fiance). We were both working in casinos and managed to have the same days off - Tuesday and Wednesday. We were planning a wedding, strapped for cash and holidays paid double time. When asked if we would be willing to work Thanksgiving day, we discussed it and decided that since we had no family in the area, Thanksgiving would be pretty much just another day for us. And the whole pilgrims and indians thing is weak (wonder how the native americans in this country celebrate thanksgiving). We both agreed to work that day - I worked 9am to 5pm, he worked 2pm to 10pm.
I worked all day, the casino was quieter than usual and the Bingo parlor (a massive place - one of the world's largest at the time) was nearly empty. As the day wore on, I realized this was not just another day. People were with their families - a rare occurrence in Vegas. People were eating turkey, watching football (the Race and Sports Book area was doing a brisk business that day), visiting with cousins, eating pumpkin pie...
I went home to our Junior One Bedroom apartment in a nice complex in the crappy part of town, and nobody was on the streets. Nobody was dealing crack. Nobody was peeing behind the dumpster at the 7-11 (we had a great view from the balcony at our apartment). Even the 6 foot tall black hooker with the ass-length blonde wig was nowhere to be found.
I walked into the empty apartment and headed straight for the booze. Found some Bailey's Irish Cream and had a couple of drinks. Opened the fridge, found some eggs, milk, celery. I hadn't even shopped.
The apartments where we lived were rather inexpensive and convenient, plus there was a decent pool. So when friends came to visit, a few just moved in. My best friend lived next door for a couple of years (we were all in our wandering around phase at that time), a friend of hers came to visit and moved in two doors down from her. By this Thanksgiving, my best friend was gone, but Brandy was still there and her mom had come down to have Thanksgiving with her.
Brandy was beautiful. I mean the type of beauty you just want to drink. She was full of life, young and fun. Always smiling and laughing. She'd had a fling with James, a guy from England on a fishing boat in AK and when he came to visit, he moved in too and they got married. Brandy worked in a bar (yes, we went through all the jokes). James, to my knowledge, never really did much but he was charming. Brandy's mom was a lot like Brandy, but sort of the older, jaded, sad version. She worked in a "titty bar" in Oregon. She had the remnants of that same kind of beauty but it was really worn out on her.
Brandy somehow realized that I was sitting home alone and came over to invite me to Thanksgiving dinner at her place (3 doors down). I accepted, gratefully. I was thankful to have a place to go and family to be with. I walked in and Brandy and James were there, along with Brandy's mom and a couple of regulars from Brandy's bar, who like me, had noplace else to go. I was handed a Budwiser. In a can. I don't eat meat or poultry so I sat on the floor eating veggies and cranberry sauce from a can and listening to Brandy's mom tell stories from her "titty bar" in her cigarettes and whiskey voice. I tried, really tried, to give the bar regulars a chance, but they were a couple of drunken losers with only sad stories to tell. I appreciated being included, and Brandy was a shining light, but all in all it was without a doubt one of the most depressing days of my life.
I stuck around for a while and then headed back to my place, full of Bud from a can and cranberry sauce. Called my family - all the aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings eating good food at my aunt's house, laughing, watching football, reconnecting. I cried.
Every year on Thanksgiving, I remember that day as I sit with the 40 family members who gather now at my cousin's house. I watch the kids playing, creating memories of what Thanksgiving should be. I talk to my cousins and family members - some of whom I only see once a year. I eat till I want to throw up and know there are people drinking bud from a can and eating Stove Top Stuffing and feeling thankful to have that. There are people sitting alone with 3 eggs and some celery in the fridge. There are people in homeless shelters and shelters for victims of domestic violence. There are people who have nobody left.
Each year, I remember exactly how much I do have. And I am thankful.