A Family Affair
My grandmother died the month before Thanksgiving. Being the first family-oriented holiday in a season that promotes connection, hospitality, and of course, breaking bread, her passing occurring in such close proximity to the day was not lost on us.
In my large, Black American family, Thanksgiving has always been a particularly special holiday. When I was younger, each cluster of the Porchers from across the state would make the one or two hour trip to an aunt’s house. My immediate family, along with aunts, uncles, cousins, and their respective significant others would squeeze into a home not built to sustain the amount of guests there. I remember endless conversations about TV shows and movies coming out, school and the grades we had completed since the last time we had seen each other, and new websites, like Facebook, and how popular we thought they were going to be. Regardless of how packed we were, we were happy.
The guest of honor every year was, without a doubt, my grandmother. She was a thin woman who spoke slowly, softly, and overall very little. She reserved her words for witty one-liners, ones that she would beckon the recipient to lean in for, and cause them to exclaim an amused “Grandma!” or “Mommy!” Even as she grew older and her words grew more scarce, she never lost her sharp-tongue.
Thanksgivings don’t happen the same way they did when I was a kid, but my grandmother’s death had nothing to do with that. As I got older and more aware of conflict, the divisions in my family seemed to grow wider. When I was seven, I thought waiting a year to see my extended relatives was ludicrous. Now, sitting in the church pew watching everyone in the procession to the casket, I realize that I had not seen many of these people since that last Thanksgiving.
At the reception is when I feel most nostalgic. While the somber air still lingers, people are talking and smiling, and, most recognizably, there is food. Without any sort of labels, I can immediately tell who made the barbecue chicken, which aunt baked the mac and cheese (categorized as “the good one” and “the other one,” the food that is), and which kitchen the desserts came from. This is how we express our love to each other. The food on the table represents an array of peace offerings, or at the very least a temporary ceasefire in a decades long Cold War. It’s bittersweet, of course, but still saccharine.
So when November 28th rolls around, I don’t notice much of a difference between the holiday and the ones from the past few years. In reality, this is not the first Thanksgiving without my grandmother. While it's the first one without her physical presence on Earth, I had not shared a meal with her in years. It’s at my parents’ home, as it has been since I was twelve, and the same relatives come, we talk about the same things, and we eat the same food. This year, it coincides with my 21st birthday, and we swap out the usual spread of desserts for one large pink sheet cake. There is plenty of room for the handful of cousins from my mother’s side and their children. At the dinner table, it’s not lost on me that the next time I see my extended family will likely be at the next funeral, and with that perspective I do not mind if it’s another few years.