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My wife and I were grocery shopping the other day, and on kind of a whim, I bought about a half a gallon of fresh squeezed cider. Not the frozen concentrate, not the stuff that’s so clear it looks like it’s already gone through you once. This was the real stuff, and I wanted it because – oh – here, hold the bottle and just come with me into my time machine… Let’s go back about 40 years or so to when I was a kid…
My dad was off at college to get a degree for his second career while we were trying to live off his military pension. Mom was using ductape and paperclips trying to make ends meet, and doing her best to keep us from being worried, or even aware of how little money there really was.
So we had our own little special things that didn’t cost much.
Among the many things we couldn’t afford was soda – or pop – whatever you call it in the part of the country you’re from.
So we did something else.
We made it ourselves.
We had apple trees, and we had my grampa’s cider press, and we put the two together and made apple cider, just as the last of the apples were falling.
There was a special time, several weeks after the cider had been made, when it started to ferment a bit, and get fizzy. Understand, we kept it outside. It was just cold enough to keep it from fermenting too fast, but not so cold as to preserve it perfectly. If you haven’t had this treat, you’re clearly missing something – it’s something they try to sell in stores – you can buy “hard cider” just about anywhere now, but what made this special was that time in the fermentation process where the sugars were just starting to turn to alcohol. There was a mixture of the still-present, but fading sweetness, that was a being replaced by the zing of the bubbles and alcohol that you simply can’t get from a store. It’s a transitional state… Not too sweet, not too… Hard, I guess. And that was the perfect time to have it. Usually about the second half of November through the first half of December was when it was best…
That’s when I especially looked forward to Friday night… Pizza night.
Pizza wasn’t delivered out where we lived, so we made our own. Made the dough from the USDA donated flour we got because we were too poor to afford any. You could smell the yeasty warmth of the dough rising throughout the afternoon. We grated the cheese from the USDA commodities donated cheese we got. We put the homemade pizza dough in a flat rectangular baking pan. I never understood people not eating pizza crust, for us, the corner pieces were fought over.
So that time at the end of fall and beginning of winter, that was when, if the cider wasn’t frozen from being outside, it would be cold as I brought the bottle in, then fizz as I opened it, sometimes fizzing and leaving little chunks of ice all at the same time, and we pretended we were like the rich people who could afford soda.
What I didn’t know then was that it beat anything you can get in a bottle or a can today. We’d squeezed it ourselves, from apples we’d grown, and it had aged either on the back porch or out in the pump house, which was always pretty cool anyway.
It was a family meal, at the dinner table, and it was special.
When the last of the hot pizza was gone, washed down by the last of that bottle of ice cold cider, I leaned back, trying to decide which felt better… the savory pizza still warm in my belly, or the last bits of sweet coolness from the cider fading in my mouth.
And it got me thinking – standing there in the grocery store, with a rather expensive bottle of apple cider in my left hand, something just clicked. Growing up, we often forgot how poor we were financially, because we were so rich everywhere else.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks…
The other night I was driving home and was pretty much blinded by some headlights. The weird thing is – these headlights weren’t in front of me, they were behind me.
As those of you who’ve read my stories before know that I drive a 1968 Saab 96. The ones that came from the factory that year had a mirror on each door and one just above the windshield. The ones built earlier had the mirror actually mounted on the top of the dash. The fellow who rebuilt the car before I bought it put the dash of a ’67 in there, complete with mirror, so now I have a car with a total of 4 rear view mirrors, and I was driving home, at night, in the rain.
It was not hard to see what was behind me in this car.
On this evening, in heavy traffic, a rather wide car had managed to find, and stay in, “the sweet spot” behind me where his left headlight was reflected through my drivers’ door mirror, and his right one was reflected off my passenger’s door mirror, and he was far enough back to where he was hitting at least one of the inside mirrors with both headlights.
Anyone looking at me at the time would have seen two round spots of light (one on each eye) connected with a rectangular one on my face.
It was, if you can imagine, bright, and with all that light in my face, I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep from having what was behind me blind me from what was in front of me. Squinting didn’t work – if I squinted enough to make the lights tolerable, I could barely make out what was in the wet darkness in front of me.
The next day, I was driving someplace else, and was able to just drive – it wasn’t raining, it was daylight, and I, while being aware of the mirrors, wasn’t blinded by them…
Something made me look at the size of the windshield, and compare it with the size of the mirrors. Now even though those mirrors were much smaller than the windshield – the night before they’d gotten most of my attention, in large part because those headlights from the car behind me were positioned just right, and it really was hard to see out the front.
I started thinking about this whole thing with mirrors and windshields and why they were useful and when…
And I was kind of surprised and fascinated by the whole ‘aha’ moment that I came up against…
See, the thing is – most of our lives, okay, all of our lives, we’re traveling through this dimension called time, if you will, forward. My personal vehicle for this travel happens to be an old, simple one that works… it’s not fancy, it’s not fast. It’s loud and occasionally obnoxious, but it – well, it works (we could be talking about the Saab or me – up to you to pick that one out 🙂 – and the thing is – let’s say I’m driving someplace… I’m going to spend most of my time looking out the front of the car – to places I haven’t been to yet, to places I’ll get to in the future. I can’t do anything about what’s happening in front of me, but I can prepare myself for what happens once I get there. This could mean I speed up, or slow down, change lanes, or even get off the freeway for a little bit. Bottom line is, what’s on the other side of the windshield is important, and like it or not, can affect my life in both good and bad ways.
I did some more thinking…
There are times ahead when there will be signs of accidents that happened before you got there. I’ve seen it before – where I see a long skid mark heading off the road to make a huge dent in the guard rail. That person was lucky, the guardrail kept him or her from going through it.
There will be times ahead when there will be accidents, there will be flashing lights, highway flares, sometimes there will be tow trucks, ambulances, and police officers. As hard as it is not to gawk, I’ve learned to be careful as I drive by so I don’t become a statistic.
There will be times, I’ve learned, when I won’t get any warning and end up having to swerve, or slam on the brakes, or squeeze through someplace just in time to avoid some major calamity…
You get past it, and while you’re still focused on what’s on the other side of the windshield, you do sneak a few peeks back in the mirror, to see if there’s something you can learn from what you’ve just been through.
Sometimes that’s easy to see, like with those skid marks and a crashed car.
Sometimes it’s easy and important to stop and help.
Sometimes you get there and it’s clear that there’s nothing you can do – either because others are already doing it, or because – well – because you’re too late.
At some point, some of you are going to realize I’m talking far less about cars than I am about life – and that’s where I had my ‘aha’ moment, when those mirrors really had more to do with learning from the mistakes, or lessons, of my past than they did about driving down a rainy highway at night.
I learned that if I paid attention to events like this, it gave me a chance to learn from the mistakes of others without having to make them myself. That doesn’t mean I actually did learn immediately, but it was a start, and that was a good thing.
Sometimes, things behind me – like the car that was behind me at the beginning of this story, seem so bright and so important, that I have a very hard time focusing on what’s ahead of me – be that when I’m driving or in life. I find myself focused on what’s behind me because it just seems so important at the time…
“Why didn’t I do this?”
“Why is this happening?”
“What can I do to get away from this?”
Driving faster to get away from those headlights wouldn’t have done much good, it wouldn’t have been safe to go much faster – I was going about as fast as I really dared to go under those conditions.
And the fact is, I had to keep driving…
But just like in driving, when you need to take a rest, so in life you should do the same thing. Take that time to look back a bit, in your “mirrors.” –
If you made mistakes, learn from them.
If you hurt someone, make it right and ask for their forgiveness.
If you’re the one who was wronged, learn how to forgive.
And sometimes, the person you need to forgive most…
So how’s all this fit with that whole size of the windshield compared to the size of the mirrors thing I mentioned earlier? Well, I think the windshield’s bigger because you’re heading forward, car, life, whichever.
The mirrors are there to help you learn from what you went through.
Both are necessary, but spending too much time looking forward means you don’t learn from the lessons of your past. Spending too much time looking back (like at the lights of that car behind me) means you can’t move forward with any confidence or accuracy.
So – this Thanksgiving – take the time to pull over, to stop and look back, using the “rear view mirrors” at the past year, be thankful for, the things you’ve been blessed to get through, but also – remember it’s behind you. There’s nothing you can do about whatever smooth road or total wreckage there is back there.
The only thing you can do is hold onto the steering wheel as best you can, whether that’s of your car or of your life, and drive carefully.
Take care, folks, happy Thanksgiving…