Being Grateful

Thanksgiving was never on my list of favorite holidays long before the real stories of the Pilgrims and Native Americans emerged.

When I was young, growing up in New York, I never experienced those Hallmark moments of the family gathered around a large table with an overly stuffed turkey and all the fixings. No one gathered afterward watching football or Christmas movies or Charlie Brown. Yes, I had Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house in Kentucky; unfortunately I was too young to remember many of those occasions. My mom was a nurse; so my younger brother and I spent many holidays with our step-grandmother (whom neither of us liked) and the rest of her obnoxious family.

Well, not all of them were toxic. Our step-cousins wanted to get as far away from them as we did. Thank God for the kid’s table and the mild days when we could go outside.

This went on for a little while until my mom and her husband got their own place. Nothing much changed, though we had to deal with the babysitter, or rather my brother had to. I looked for a way to abandon ship early, usually right after the Macy’s Parade.

It wasn’t until I was sent to the group home for boys in upstate New York that I began to understand what Turkey Day was really about. Things had changed at home. Mom had a new boyfriend, and her hours at the hospital had changed. When I came home for visits, she and Steve would cook up a storm, and he had a full bar (relax, I was 16 and playing football by then).

That didn’t last long though. By the time I turned 18, they’d parted ways, and I became homeless. Then, just as I got my own place, I got arrested and spent what would be the first of many holidays in jail.

When I moved to Boston, things didn’t get much better. My first Thanksgiving here? Well, all I want to say about that is that I was a guest, there was a bottle of wine, a wild night, and I was no longer a guest. (Don’t ask.)

What about the next few Thanksgivings? Let’s just say, I was always somewhere I didn’t always want to be. It wasn’t until my 30s after we created Spare Change News that I finally began to reasonably enjoy Thanksgiving, or Native American Day, as my old friend Tim used to call it. I had good people around me then. My relationship with my mom had changed, and I made it a point to go home and see her nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas. After she passed away, holidays didn’t mean a lot for a while.

Then came the Thanksgiving I almost died. After that, I’ve become grateful for all the holidays I get to spend with family and friends, and I remember those in the past with fondness—yes, even the bad ones. It’s not all about the food and the football games. It’s about spending time with the people who matter most to you in life. Happy holidays.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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