Friday, November 29, 2013

The Day After

On the day after Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for the Thanksgiving I celebrated yesterday. It was small--just my husband, our son, and me--quiet and low-key. Restful. We ate well but moderately, did the dishes and then, enjoying the effects of tryptophan, watched couple Doctor Who retrospectives. After all the upheavals of the last year, it was good to have a day like that.

I've been caught up in the fiftieth anniversary hoopla this month. How could I not be? I lived through those terrible days of November, 1963. Days that destroyed forever any hope I secretly harbored that life might ever return to normal.

It's funny how we keep returning to the traumas of our youth. I was thirteen in 1963, already hit with the double whammy of unprepared-for puberty and my family's move from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. I feel great empathy for immigrants, because I know how hard such moves are. Everything about my new home felt alien. In fact, I never called it home. I didn't feel at home again until I created my own years later.

The assassination was the final installment of a searing trilogy that year. I remember watching the sky as I walked home from school, expecting Russian bombers any minute. I remember my father's almighty cursing, for once unrestrained, at the killing of Oswald, and my dim understanding of his sense of helplessness was perhaps the most terrifying aspect of that long weekend.

As the nation struggled to piece itself back together on the day before Thanksgiving, my mother timed her labor pains while basting the turkey she knew she wouldn't be home to serve. That night I put my four siblings to bed and slept uneasily on the couch until my dad came home sometime before dawn. When my mother called to tell me I had a new brother--who now lives in Dallas--my only response was to ask how to cook sweet potatoes. At thirteen, in a bewildering new body, in a house I hated and a world gone mad, I made Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.

So a Thanksgiving like yesterday was a blessing. Sure, there were forty-nine others in between, some memorable, most blending into a haze of faces, voices, laughter, changes, traditions. But I think yesterday will stand out in my memory for its sheer sense of ordinariness. No dramas, no alarms. I even had time to relax with a new knitting pattern.

I wish I could borrow a Tardis and reassure the young girl I was. But what would I tell her? That she would be all right? She wasn't, not for a long time. That the world would settle down? It never has and it never will. Maybe just this: There will be ordinary days. Good days. Savor them.


  1. Nikki,

    I too well remember those unsettled times. The shock and disbelief were overpowering. We were glued to our TV set during the history making tragedy of those days.

    1. Definitely a generation-defining moment. And we will never completely understand why it happened.

  2. A warm and poignant post, Nikki. I moved thirteen times in my childhood and can relate to your sense of not belonging--and to the shock of President Kennedy's death. Tragic events like this seem to happen every decade and to somehow punctuate our lives.Bring us together and then separate us again.

    1. I wonder how alike/dissimilar the effects are between a single traumatic uprooting and a constant series of them. My dad also moved many times in his youth, but I never got to talk about it with him. He shut down his emotions; you and I became writers. The deeply personal and the widely shared events that make us the people we are today--a strange and amazing journey. Thanks for stopping in.