Thanksgiving is a low-key holiday in my family. Most of the out-of-town members of the family wait and come in for a long visit at Christmas, so yesterday was not the full extended family, but fifteen of us gathered at my mother's house. I love a holiday that involves no work on my part; my mother does all the cooking, and I just get in the car and drive to her house, which is only a few miles away. The house always smells so good when we walk in the door that we end up gathering in the small kitchen, crowding each other, and getting in my mother's way while she is trying to cook. Seven or eight of us can fit around the kitchen table, while the rest of the group eats around the folding tables set up in the living room. My mother cooks the traditional turkey dinner, but she makes so many side dishes that the vegetarians in the family are plenty satisfied.
Often when my family is together, we look at photo albums or slides or some of the videotapes the grandchildren have made; this holiday, we gathered around my parents' computer to look at digital photos. Red-haired Niece's boyfriend, Outdoor Boy, had just returned from forty days spent hiking in the Highest Mountains on the Planet, part of his training to be a wilderness guide. He showed us photos of his adventure, which included carrying an eighty-pound pack, wading through snow past his knees, crossing fragile-looking bridges, and camping on steep slopes night after night. He had seen eagles dropping their prey onto rocks to kill them, and he described monkeys that were absolute pests, trying always to steal food. Most exciting, he had seen a creature that few people ever get to encounter in the wild: a snow leopard.
On either side of the long trek, he spent a few days immersed in the culture of Asian Peninsula Country. He showed us photos of women carrying heavy loads on their backs, children in bright-colored clothing, shops where you could drink cups of chai, and of long low shacks that he said were places you could stay for about ten cents per night. He showed us photos of Famous Marble Building with its recognizable domes.
Red-haired Niece, who is going to grad school in Big City Like No Other, has been working on a degree in early childhood education and is simultaneously working a full-time job at Progressive School for Rich Kids. Some of the parents in the school are not merely rich; they are celebrities. (You know an actor is famous if even I've heard of him.) The kids in her photos looked like normal kids, though, all playing together on the rooftop playground or in the classroom, and she talked about them with great enthusiasm and affection.
It was great to see Schoolteacher Niece and Red-haired Niece, both full of their usual energy despite their demanding grad school schedules; life in the Big City Like No Other seems to agree with them both. After eating the big meal, some of the family went out in the backyard to play Ultimate Frisbee while others walked out to see my father's garden. The cold outside air smelled like mud and dead leaves. Soon we were all back in for another round of eating – pumpkin pie, apple pie, and some kind of pumpkin bread with chocolate chips in it. The holiday ended the way a holiday at my mother's always does, everyone crowded into the small living room, with five or six people jammed onto the couch, my father in the rocking chair, and other people sitting on the floor or on kitchen chairs, everyone talking all at once.