Memories of Thanksgiving

It’s funny—the things we remember and things we don’t. Then there are those memories that get garbled and distorted with time until it’s all but impossible to distinguish a version of a story from what really happened from.

Thanksgiving night, in the sixth grade, I made my first earnest attempt at writing a book.

It was that critical period of my life when I started to transition from child into teenager and started staying up past my nine-thirty bedtime, not to hang out with friends or do anything dangerous, but more often than not to read, write, or draw. So it was, sitting in bed that I began work on The Prince. Riffing off of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles that I had read and reread in the preceding years, and maybe borrowing from The Hobbit which I would have just been starting, I wrote a fantasy story about a prince and a princess—the princess smacked around in public by her domineering father, a king; the prince from a neighboring kingdom who consoled her and fell in love at a feast.

I think this all happened in the sixth grade. The staying up late and the literary influences line up. That, and I remember Steve Cabrinski shaking his head in wonder a couple month’s later in Mrs. Kroll’s Language Arts class when I showed off the typed sixty-ish page manuscript. Chin wrote a book.

But then the memory grows more complicated. Because I recall casting the princess in my mind as a girl we'll call Dana, who I’d had my first crush on in the first grade, but who I hadn’t circled around to thinking about again, much less writing about, until the seventh grade. That means that the Thanksgiving i'm thinking of must have been the Turkey Day of my seventh grade year, but then how to reconcile that with the Steve Cabrinski comment? If anything, it might have taken longer to finish the manuscript than I’m remembering, which would place Steve a year later in life, all the way in the seventh, maybe eighth grade, not the sixth, and that just couldn’t be right.

I have trouble lining up other Thanksgiving memories as well. That I remember eating the turkey liver with my father on Thanksgiving afternoons, hours before dinner was ready. We were the only ones in the house who liked the liver, and one time I was distracted by doing something else while my father called for me to partake, and I told him I didn’t want any, and I recall the terror afterward that he wouldn’t offer me liver again--this once-a-year delicacy, this piece of my childhood that the two of us shared. I remember all of this, but also remember spending Thanksgiving afternoons with my sister at my grandmother’s house--probably equally to stay out of our parents’ way as they cooked and because we were so in love with spending time with her. But how could I have been at my grandmother’s house and in the kitchen at my childhood home?

Speaking of pleasures that my father and I shared, separate from the rest of my family, I remember Survivor Series, the annual WWF wrestling super show in which teams of four or five squared off against one another. We never ordered pay per view, but in those days, the cable company would broadcast a scrambled image while still delivering the sound of the show loud and clear, so I would listen. My parents would drape a blanket over the screen so I didn’t hurt my eyes. I would dutifully write down who won and lost, and sometimes attempt to act out what was happening on TV, based on the play-by-play, with my wrestling action figures. I remember this being annual part of Thanksgiving--after dinner, after my grandmother had gone home. I don’t remember it happening for a first time or last time--just that Survivor Series always happened and I assumed it always would. For this particular memory, there’s more historical record available to support and refute pieces of what I remember--that the Survivor Series show launched in 1987 on Thanksgiving night and stayed there for four years, then moved to Thanksgiving eve, before falling in line with the then-WWF’s more uniform pay per view schedule, occurring on Sunday nights (note: that part continues to this very day).

I remember doubling up on Thanksgiving dinners, eating with my best friend’s family as well as my own, and what seemed like years of tripling up with Thanksgiving at my girlfriend-at-the-time’s house as well, though I think that only happened one year.

All of these memories, and all the more so the discrepancies among them may seem frivolous, and I’ll concede that most of them probably only matter to me, and perhaps my closest family and friends. Still, as another holiday season takes flight, and particularly with Thanksgiving around the corner, I feel inclined to look backward. To remember these days that I alternately looked forward to and treasured as a child, a teenager, an adult.

It can be disconcerting to recognize when the memories are off. To identify paradoxes and pieces that couldn’t possibly be right or when my memories conflict with someone else’s. It can be particularly problematic when those histories aren’t the kind that archived in any meaningful way, and the best route to confirming a story is to ask someone else who was there and trust her or his memory will align with one side or the other and not complicate matters further.

As a writer, and particularly a writer of fiction, I grapple with all of this. The prevailing logic is to focus on scene work--not to be afraid to consolidate characters, and to pick isolated moments that will convince the reader of broader messages. I want to find similar grains to piece together my own life, to feel like, if not a comprehensive, at least a representative whole.

Through that lens, I suppose the factuality of memories is far less essential than what my memories stand for. The feelings they evokes. Whether the stuffing was Stove Top, Bell’s, or homemade that year, and whether I ate dark meat or white, it’s more far important that the food was warm. That I felt hope and that I felt loved.

That I was happy.

That I am thankful.