A Homeless Thanksgiving

They’re sort of tacky, and look out of place beside my wedding sterling and Mother’s bone china. But I adore them. I bought them at K-Mart twenty years ago when I was homeless.

Well, I wasn’t exactly homeless, but I felt as though I were. After living in Ashland for thirty years, we were re-locating to Georgetown, three hours down the Interstate. After a long career with Ashland Inc., my husband had accepted a post-retirement position as Treasurer of Georgetown College. Five months later, however, we were still straddling the two towns, living neither here nor there.

By Thanksgiving, I had reached the point of “why did we think this was a good idea” that many people do after they decide to move. Our perfect house languished on the market, a circumstance I took as a personal rejection. What’s not to love, I kept asking? Indeed, our love affair with the Ashland house had complicated our attempts to buy one in Georgetown. Like a rejected lover, it stalked us when we went house-hunting until we’d walk away, saying no, this one doesn’t measure up. I think our indecisiveness pushed several realtors into new careers.

Lonely with my husband gone all week, I finally joined him in Georgetown where he was living out of a suitcase in a room rented by the week. Still, I felt displaced. I can confess now that I was homesick. Homesick for our neighbors, our friends, even the familiarity of my supermarket. Most of all, I was homesick for the young woman I’d been when we moved to Ashland thirty years earlier.

Our three daughters were scattered in three states. Travel was difficult for my elderly mother who lived in Lexington. It made no sense, we reasoned, for the clan to gather at our house in Ashland for Thanksgiving. “We’ll just mess it up,” I said. “It is, after all, on the market!”

So we rented a multi-bed condo at The Residence Inn to accommodate our daughters’ holiday visit “home.” It would be fun, we told ourselves. And whoo-boy – eating out in a nice restaurant on Thanksgiving Day would sure beat cooking.

I really liked the pleasant Residence Inn suite for about an hour. Then I began to notice how much it didn’t look like our home. Thinking flowers might help, I brought in several bunches of potted mums and scattered them around. Next, I picked up cookies at Kroger. I arranged them on orange plastic containers shaped like pumpkins, and angled the platters just-so on the condo’s kitchen counter. Still, The Residence Inn wasn’t jelling for me.

Then I spotted the Pilgrim couple at K-Mart. Technically, they’re candles, pudgy wax people about six inches tall, dressed – well, painted – as though they’d just stepped off The Mayflower. But who could burn Miles Standish’s tall, black hat until it dripped over his square belt buckle? Who would melt Priscilla’s white bonnet and smiling face until she dropped her basket of vegetables? I giggled out loud when I saw them. They’re classic kitsch, so awful that they’re wonderful.

I’ve always loved the story of the Pilgrims and their first Thanksgiving. Homesick and nearly homeless in a harsh, new place, they’d survived enormous challenges of disease and near starvation. Yet, when offered a chance to return to England at the end of that year, none of them chose to leave. Instead, they celebrated their first anniversary in the new world with a harvest feast shared with the Native Americans who’d helped them survive. When my genealogy research connected my grandmother’s people with the Fullers who arrived on The Mayflower, I was tickled.

However, like most historical figures – like most people -- the Pilgrims were neither all good nor all bad. In recent decades, they’ve come under criticism for displacing Native Americans or reneging on treaties made with them. I can forgive the great chief King Philip and his braves for beheading my umpteenth-great-grandmother, Sarah Bowen Fuller, in 1676, even as I empathize with her terror and grieve her tragic death.

And while the Pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom, they often were intolerant of others’ beliefs. My Fullers hung around Plymouth and Salem for generations, and I’ve searched the stories of the Salem witch trials for their names. Thus far, I haven’t seen them listed with the accused witches or among the pious accusers. I am unsure which camp I most fear finding them in.

Despite the flaws in the Pilgrims, though, their story astonishes me. They came to America on a tiny boat when I would not have had the courage to do so. They stayed and endured when I would have given up. Throughout our country’s history, other migrant groups have repeated variations of their heroic story, over and over, and again these stories of courage, endurance and triumph astonish wimpy me.

I brought the rotund Pilgrim candles back to The Residence Inn and placed them prominently on the condo counter beside a tray of Kroger’s best cookies. They looked out of place, but then so was I.

You know how this story will end. We had a lot of fun that Thanksgiving, and eating dinner out was easier than cooking for two days. While we missed my grandmother’s recipe for fluffy turkey dressing, we all agreed that the restaurant’s signature corn pudding could not be equaled.

Soon our old house sold, and we bought one in Georgetown. A few years later, we sold it too, and bought another in nearby Lexington. I’ve become as settled and happy in our new Central Kentucky community as I was in Ashland. But I’ve hung on to those tacky, wax Pilgrims from our homeless Thanksgiving. They grace our table every year. Just because, I tell the family -- just because.

Copyright © November 2016 Georgia Green Stamper