Christmas decorations are slowly appearing along the downtown shopping streets. These things don’t all happen at once. Booths start to appear as if built by midnight elves but the the windows and doors remain shuttered. White light outlines of stars and candles are starting to appear over our heads along the open mall with some lit up and others waiting. “Gluewein” my more experienced German friends are whispering to me. There are no exhortations to get out on Black Friday or to righteously and pointedly boycott Black Friday because as far as I can tell, there’s no Black Friday to get all imperative about. Christmas slips in gradually, perhaps with a beer in hand and who can rush about with a beer in hand?
There is no tension around keeping Thanksgiving “sacred” because there is no “Thanksgiving.” At least not American style. I personally think St. Martin’s Day (Nov 11th) serves that sacred ritual of celebrating harvest and family as well as care for the poor. Beloved is at work today and I am writing. Not a potatoes waiting to be mashed in sight although given just two burners and a microwave I’d probably not be doing much of any traditional feast in any case. Not even the sacred Dungeness Crab counter-traditional meal Beloved and I were trying to foist onto the grown children the last few years. I miss crab.
Instead, we’re going to try out a new ex-pat tradition: the Democratic Club Thanksgiving Meal in a local restaurant. We’re supposed to bring home made desserts. I’m thinking that would be Lindt chocolate from the Tanglemans (aka grocery) store attached to the hotel in my case. No family? Let’s go meet some new people.
Honestly, I’m okay skipping the whole cultural trappings of the American Thanksgiving Secular Holiday. I think we should declare that Norman Rockwell painting Family Porn and just go to the movies instead or something. I’m liking the quiet space of this day as I sit more or less outside the cultural agitation of this American Consumption focused event.
But I’m not all the way out. I follow my friends on Facebook. Even though its nearly 2 p.m. here, my American friends are starting to wake up and post “Happy Thanksgiving” messages. There are images of Snoopy dancing among pumpkins and snarky, guilt-infused memes highlighting the oppression and slaughter of First Nations people. My distance is highlighted with each post. My emotional distance as well as my physical distance.
Still, I think I would not care but today is also my younger daughter’s birthday. And I know that she will be at my brother’s table with my Mom, my college freshman nephew, and other family members from my sister-in-law’s family. And I won’t be there. With luck and the grace of fragile internet connections I might be able to log in for a quick video conference but that window of opportunity will come around midnight my time. I’m out of synch.
A couple of nights ago, Beloved and I went to a profoundly German restaurant for dinner near the commercial center of our neighborhood to be. On our way out, I found photographs from years past hanging on the wall. Pre-and post- WWII photographs. I was thrilled because now I am starting to find the stories of where I’m going to live. I don’t feel settled, its not a home till I can find the stories of a particular place. Yesterday and today I found more websites and photos, filling in some of the questions I have been holding. Knowing that the DanteBad swimming area been a swimming pool since at least the early 1900’s and knowing that the whole neighborhood kind of popped up out of nowhere between 1830 and 1900 and knowing that there has been an ice cream store on that corner for decades helps to warm a collection of buildings into a neighborhood with stories.
Some of these stories will be hard to know. The grand stadium next door to the swimming pool was a place for Nazi youth rallies. The main road to the east is called Dachaustraße. Who drove up and down that road? Some of the founding leadership for the Nazi party came out of these cozy neighborhoods. Jews disappeared from their homes and their businesses. Some stories are easy to see. Young women standing together on a warm June’s evening, strollers with sleeping children at their side. One last conversation together before heading home from the Taxigarten. The families from the pre-school across the street slowly walking their way around the church block and pausing at each corner to sing songs and wave school-made lanterns on the feast of St. Martin.
Perhaps the extended family table should be more about the stories then the food or the upcoming sales or the football. I hope for my family in Portland an extended time of telling stories and making new ones. I will – I do miss those stories. I hope for Beloved and me some new stories as well from people we are about to meet. I hope for homecoming, or home making. I hope for home-aching too. What do we learn when we are not comfortable?