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Volume 16, Issue 48 - November 27 - December 3, 2008
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Bay Reflections

Thanks for the Memories

Laughter is the best medicine, and that day it helped us all.

by Jane Elkin

“We hath not a good harvest, so I brought you a piece of the Plymouth Rock.”

Thanksgiving was founded as a celebration of survival, a condition we Americans can’t comprehend — unless we find ourselves homeless or starving. When such tragedy struck my family, we were thankful just to have another holiday together.

My favorite aunt and uncle had been fixtures at the feast since 1958. He, smelling of Old Spice and sweet pipe tobacco, always brought collectibles: antique postcards, sheet music, baseball cards and coins. She, smelling of starched linen, brought flowers and four of the world’s best homemade pies. Simple, old-fashioned people with loving hearts, they made the day serene and happy with predictability and bear hugs.

They lived in a tidy little house that burnt to the ground one glorious October day while they were raking leaves. He saw silent wisps of smoke curling up from the porch roof. By the time he’d called 911, there was only time to grab a stack of old LPs as he charged out the door.

They lost everything: photos, baby mementos, heirloom doilies and a huge rug she’d braided from old woolen skirts: All ashen memories. Gone were the material treasures, as well: collectibles meant to support a retirement, wedding china, an assortment of old pipes and his beloved stereo. In the early years of the digital age, before music aficionados rediscovered the glory of vinyl, only a wealthy man could afford a replacement. My uncle was heartbroken at the loss.

So as my husband and I packed the car for our annual migration back home, we loaded his old stereo and a dozen dusty albums we hoped would appeal to my uncle’s taste, along with a little something extra to perk up their spirits. It was a pilgrim suit on loan from a local theater. A surprise visit from my husband’s ancestor, John Alden, seemed in order.

When my aunt and uncle arrived for Thanksgiving dinner, they didn’t seem quite like themselves in their new and borrowed clothes. She still carried it off with style, but they looked a little older, shorter and sadder. It’s hard to start over in your golden years. To add insult to injury, they felt trivialized by the newspaper account of their ordeal. They called us elderly, he exclaimed. Why couldn’t they just say senior or retired and leave it at that?

Once people settled down to watch the Macy’s parade as usual, my husband led his aunt and uncle to the garage, where our old stereo was set up. His eyes grew wide and the hint of an incredulous smile pulled at his mouth when the needle dropped on the faint strains of Ravel’s Bolero. As the music crescendoed, he cried in mute rapture, the weight of his loss temporarily forgotten.

The mood at dinner was decidedly lighter. Then, some time during the post-meal tryptophan stupor, my husband slipped away to reconnect with his pilgrim heritage. Being of British descent, he really looked the part. Being depressed, my aunt and uncle were ripe for comic relief.

When our mystery guest appeared, it took a moment for recognition to dawn. Then stifled twitters and guffaws gave way to hysterical laughter of the irrepressible, infectious strain. We were all helpless in its grip, snorting, crying and sighing, doubled over, holding our sides and massaging our cramped cheeks. It was unbearably delicious.

When we’d finally regained some measure of control, he presented them with a chunk of granite, explaining, “We hath not a good harvest, so I brought you a piece of the Plymouth Rock,” reigniting the mirth. The rest of the day was punctuated by spontaneous giggles. Football, board games and pie were never so amusing. Laughter is the best medicine, and that day it helped us all.

Thirteen years later, my aunt and uncle still have their health, they have each other and they have a new home. It’s pretty much like the old one, full of similar stuff, but different. We can’t be together this year, but we will think of each other and smile at the memories.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.