The fine Chinette never appeared. Ditto the starched linen tablecloth and napkins. I wasn't up early stuffing an oversized bird and filling the house with the rich smell of roasting turkey. There was no cornucopia, no groaning board of traditional foods and fattening desserts.
There was a small gathering of misfits at a friends cabin on the tranquil shore of Sulphuric Lake. Otherwise, it was a virtual Thanksgiving this year.
It's closing time at Smilin' Dog Manor. The gardens are turned, tended and planted with fall rye. The tools are oiled and put away for another season. The dock that won't survive ice is hauled up on shore, the other floats on long anchor chains awaiting the ice. It's snowing... and cold. Time to return to Tiny Town and another ski season, another round of housing roulette, gridlock glamour and the giddy expectations of instant locals.
Recovering from day-early turkey, painfully aware the cupboards of Smilin' Dog were short on food and long on liquor, gnawing on a virtual leftover drumstick I didn't have and girding myself to watch the second presidential — U.S. — debate, I was wondering what other people were giving thanks for, wondering if, in fact, people give thanks much at all anymore or just inhale turkey, pass out on the sofa and wait for the maid fairies to come clean up.
Glazing over during the first round of He Said/She Said, my thoughts wandered down the path of things for which I am truly thankful, things that have had unexpected and far-reaching impacts on my life. Things which, at the time, seemed innocuous or even trivial but have ended up being profound.
First among them was the long, strange trip I wandered toward becoming Canadian. Who could have imagined a chance encounter with a feisty Canadian woman nearly 40 years ago in the postcard Swiss town of Interlaken would have eventually led me to the overwhelming relief of not having to vote for either candidate this year? I am thankful the U.S. government allowed me to sell them back my citizenship. I hope someone else enjoys it. Taking a pass from the drama south of the border is profoundly warming.
I am thankful my mother changed the course of my life. In Grade 10, I was short one elective and perplexed about what to take. The usual list of Guy electives spooled out before me: Auto Identification (1957 - 1964, The Classic Years); Strange Sports Statistics, offering the advantage of half a math credit since it was as close as some guys ever got to studying Probability & Statistics; Small Appliance Dismantling, a dual elective coupled with the Theater Department's classes in Puzzled Looks and Miming Innocence.
I'd narrowed it down to a choice between Creative Sibling Torture and Baseless Bragging when my mother said, "Why don't you take typing?"
"Typing's a girl's class," I replied, it still being a time before the Enlightenment.
She gave me a look I interpreted as, "I can't believe I went through labour for you?" What she finally said after the mood had passed was, "So, I thought you liked girls? Besides, you'll never regret learning how to type."
It had occurred to me before that there was something to be said for being the only guy in a class full of young women, women whose passions may have been aroused in the previous class studying Romantic English Poetry or something of that ilk. But typing? I couldn't imagine anything more geeky or, for that matter, anything more likely to take even the hottest passion out of the most budding romantic soul.
But I took the bait and found myself in a class of 35 future secretaries and one other guy. Best odds I'd ever enjoy.
In an early class, he sat next to me and said, "Us guys gotta stick together." I said we should divvy up the class and do our best to get a date. Then I told him if he ever sat next to me again, I'd break his thumb... the one you hit the space bar with. He kept his distance after that.
My mother was not a visionary. She did not foresee personal computers or the future importance of knowing your way around a keyboard. If pressed, she may even admit to motives of self-interest. She knew who would end up typing my papers if I didn't learn how. And she'd seen my handwriting.
On a very regular basis, when I sit down in front of my taunting blank screen, I give thanks for her prescience.
When I was older than you should be to take up a potentially crippling sport, my sister and wife conspired to pull a practical joke on me for which I also give thanks. They decided to take me skiing.
I had never been skiing. I thought riding chairs to the tops of mountains and sliding down on waxed boards was a pretty wussie way to earn your mountain. Anything short of hiking up and glissading down was both way too frou-frou and, for most of my life, way too expensive to merit serious consideration.
They said they'd teach me, so I agreed to go. Actually they called me a coward, belittled my manhood and made chicken clucking sounds when I told them they were out of their minds. What choice did I have?
Having climbed and hiked virtually every nook and cranny of Sandia Mountain, I felt supremely comfortable taking up their challenge. It was my mountain. At least until I put skis on. At which point, it became the Twilight Zone, a place where the law of gravity was malevolent.
For the first half of the first run — of course they took me to the top of the mountain — I was convinced skiing consisted of standing and falling... mostly falling. The fact they didn't seem to fall failed to diminish my belief. I was also convinced it was a normal part of learning to ski to scream, "I'll kill you if I ever catch you, you bitch!" at people you love under normal circumstances and would never, ever think of as at all bitchy.
But somehow, by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain, I was falling less often and less hard. I was so encouraged by this clear show of progress, I skied right onto the chairlift. My enthusiasm surprised my wife, sister, the liftie and particularly the person about to sit on the chair only to discover she was sitting on my lap. But I was hooked.
Skiing made me a ski bum. Typing — and a peculiar point of view — got me a column. I don't have to vote on Nov. 8. I am a thankful man heading home for an epic ski season.