Thanksgiving is in Tahoe this year. My husband Justin’s family has a large beach front cabin. It is a 5,000 square foot cabin and two other smaller A frames within walking distance. Yes, they’re insanely rich, at least to me. They’re also incredible loving and giving and have taken me into their family as one of their own.
My mom left when I was five, taking my twin baby brother and sister with her. Dad said she said she was bored with her life. Bored with my dad and bored with me. I only saw her once after that. She’d poisoned the minds of my siblings by telling them that my dad was abusive. Her new husband gladly went along and encouraged it. My brother is now a successful motivational speaker. My sister is a teacher. I don’t talk to them. They don’t want to talk to me, but they like to talk about me, or somebody they say is me. I don’t care anymore.
When I was growing up Thanksgiving were small, like my grandparent’s two bedroom house – Just my dad, Grandpa and Grammy, and Uncle Ray. We’d gather around the kitchen table in Grammy’s kitchen and have a feast on old chairs covered with yellow vinyl. The table would be covered with turkey, green bean casserole, jellied cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with little marshmallows browned on top. Everything except the turkey came out of a can except the wine. The wine was from a box with ice cubes. It was great.
Uncle Ray lived with Grandpa and Grammy. He believed that at the age of 15 he was abducted by aliens and taken for a blinding fast tour of the universe and Planet X. Ray believed that Jesus was protecting bigfoot, unicorns and other rarely seen creatures so that when mankind finally killed itself off that those were the creatures who would rule the earth. A great gray wolf would lead dwarves and elves out from their underground kingdoms to live in peace. Aliens from space would set up trade routes to earth and help the new found order prosper.
Despite his weirdness Uncle Ray was accepted into UC Berkley and managed to obtain a degree in Political Science. With his knowledge of politics he began working on his plan for a new world order he’d build along with Jesus and the Bigfoots and elves.
Yes, Uncle Ray was nuts but I adored him. My dad protected him. My grandparents accepted him. The university where he occasionally taught a course tolerated him. He never married so I was the only child there for the holidays.
At night a few hours after pie and watching “Meet Me in St. Louis”, Ray and I would go outside. He’d grab a turkey leg and I’d take a wing. We’d munch on our turkey while Ray pointed out constellations and tell me about his time with the aliens and his love for Jesus.
Ray would always take my hand and solemnly tell me, “Jenna, what I’m telling you is real. I’m not crazy.” Then we’d go inside and have turkey races with some funky wind-up toys my Grandpa got for us. We’d laugh until our sides hurt.
My grandparents and Ray are gone now. Grandpa died in his sleep the year I graduated from college. Grammy had a stroke a few months later while at a prayer group. Three years years ago Ray went hiking in Death Valley one spring and vanished. The rangers found his backpack, hiking boots and an empty water bottle. There was a note that said, “Tell Jenna that I love her.”
I still have the note.
Thanksgiving with my family was never fancy or exciting but I knew I was loved.
Right after I graduated away from college my dad remarried. I met my husband Justin and Thanksgiving dishes no longer involved food from cans or vinyl chairs.
This year dad and his wife Gracie went to Montana to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I knew I’d miss them but wished them a good time.
As Justin and I drove up into the mountains I thought about Ray as I looked out the car at the forests. Over the river and through the woods… When I was 16 Ray and I would drive up to the mountains to see the stars. I’d drive. He never learned how. In the cool summer nights we’d stand in a clearing at 8,000 feet and watch the endless show of zillions of stars and watch for shooting stars and satellites. Ray would tell me about the aliens who’d be back to get him. He’d tell me about how the ancient Greeks would navigate ships and come to America to visit. He’d tell me about planets that were inhabited by people so beautiful that our eyes would explode if we looked at them. He’d tell me that he’d been in love with a girl once and kissed her under the stars but she killed herself. He said he’d see her again. The aliens said they had taken her just before her soul was lost. Uncle Ray said to never be sad. He also told me over and over that he wasn’t crazy.
“What are the thinking about?” Justin startled me out of my reverie.
“My Uncle Ray. I miss him.”
Justin put his hand on mine. “I know honey, I know.”
Thanksgiving was spectacular. The food was amazing, the company was wonderful, the day was perfect. I’m blessed to be married into such a great family.
A few hours after dinner, after football and a lot of other fun, I took Justin by the hand and led him to the kitchen. I got myself a smoked turkey wing and gave Justin a leg, then poured two glasses of wine, minus the ice cubes and took him outside to watch the stars.
We talked about what fun we’d had that day. Then we talked about starting our own family, maybe trying to start that week.
A fireball sailed across the sky. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe a meteorite?
Justin held my hand and said, “It’s your Uncle Ray.”
I think it was.