Holidays-schmolidays. So, if you’ve read my post Yes, I am a Scrooge! (found here), then you know why I don’t like Christmas. If you haven’t read it, go back and read it first. There is also a reason I don’t ever do the “30 Days of Thanks” status thing on Facebook. Sometimes, occasions where we are supposed to remind ourselves to be grateful happen to bring forth memories that aren’t so great.
Again, I’m an Iowan, who has lived in Louisiana (a strange, alternate plane of existence) for about 20 years. When I first moved down here, and Thanksgiving was coming around, everyone kept talking about turkey and “dressing.” I was like, why in the hell would these people eat DRESSING on their damn turkey? What kind was it? Thousand Island? Maybe some bleu cheese? What on earth is wrong with these people? Whatever, I thought, I guess they must eat it like a turkey salad. Later on, I would learn that by “dressing,” they were referring to a substance similar to stuffing, only it was made with cornbread. (Remember this paragraph later on toward the end…) That brings me to another point- I am from the Land of Corn, yet I haven’t ever seen so much cornbread in my entire life as what they have down here!
The holidays make it even harder to exist in a place where you don’t really feel “at home.” I miss Thanksgiving with my family in Iowa. On both sides, there was a tradition of drawing names for Christmas. And there was always tons of great food, including pumpkin pie. The only pie around here on Thanksgiving is pecan pie, and I don’t like pecan pie. I miss the pumpkin pie with lots and lots (and lots) of whipped cream (lots of it).
As a child, our Thanksgiving celebrations rotated on both sides of the family. It would be at a different family member’s home each year. We also rotated Thanksgiving Day itself, one year it would be with Dad’s side, the next year with Mom’s side. As we got older, the holiday was still rotated with Dad’s side, but on Mom’s side, it was a bit different. Every other year, Grandpa and Grandma would book a block of hotel rooms for the entire family, and have Thanksgiving dinner catered. The kids would swim, while the adults reminisced and visited. On the alternate years, there was still a traditional dinner at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Thanksgiving with my family was always so much fun!
So why do I hate Thanksgiving, too? Add tragedy to homesickness, and the feeling of emptiness is compounded even more. As a Deputy Coroner, I quickly learned that the “myth” of many tragic events occurring over the holidays was indeed, not a myth.
In July of 2008, I had a stroke. While I have almost fully recovered, it’s still scary because none of the specialists I saw could figure out why I had a stroke, especially at such a young age. Three months later, on October 4, my dad died of cancer. Jerry and I went to Iowa to visit him in the hospital at the end of September. He was on a ventilator and sedated, but there was a brief period where he was lucid, and I was lucky enough to be there and have a few final words with him. Walking away from him, and leaving that room knowing it would be the last time I ever saw him alive, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
I’m quickly reminded of my dad being gone with Halloween, which has always been my favorite holiday. Dad always took Gina and me to pick out pumpkins, and help us carve jack-o-lanterns. And he never griped when we picked the biggest ones we could find, even if they were lopsided! Dad’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, and his birthday is November 26, so this time of year is always difficult.
Each year brings even more opportunity for tragic events. Moving forward to December 2012, my friend Raymond was shot and killed. He was a shift supervisor at a food business in Texas. An armed robber came in and shot him, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital, at the age of 21. A couple days before his death, Raymond put a heart on my Facebook “wall.” The world lost a very kind, loving, soul that night.
In late October of 2013, I was at the gym and had a missed call from one of my best friends, Sandi. Something told me to call her back, so I did, while on the treadmill. She was at another friend’s house, painting a casket for a man they knew. He was dying of cancer, and they needed her artistic skills to help fulfill his final wishes. She called to find out my process for tracing designs. Despite the odd circumstances, they were all laughing and having a good time.
Later that same night, I got called out to a traffic fatality. When I arrived on scene, I found out that the victim was Sandi. I will always be grateful to the deputy who pulled me aside when I first arrived and let me know, so I wouldn’t walk over to the ravine and see her truck without prior notice. I never thought I would be investigating my best friend’s death. On top of that, her birthday is December 22.
December 18 happens to be the birthday of my beloved boss, the Coroner. Charles A. Curtis, Jr., M.D. was not only my boss, but he was also like a father to us. He was cherished by everyone who encountered him; to meet him was to love him. Doc died of cancer February 7, 2013.
Rounding out the holiday season are the deaths of my Grandpa and Grandma Frerichs, exactly three weeks apart. Grandpa died on January 15, 2014, and Grandma died on February 5, 2014. Grandpa just missed his 95th birthday, which would have been February 2.
So yes, I’m a scrooge, and I hate Thanksgiving, too. This year, despite our circumstances being some of the worst they have been, I am going to make an honest effort to make the best out of everything. Raymond was taken at the age of 21, but he touched a LOT of lives in that short period of time. I’m fortunate my life crossed paths with his; I am a better person for having met him. I’ll always remember that heart on my wall.
Sandi has left this world, but I know her last hours were very happy. She was doing what she loved most- helping others and she had a fun time doing so. I was there at the scene of her wreck, and I got to hold her, and ensure the investigation did her justice.
I’m very fortunate that I had the opportunity to train under Doc. He was a brilliant forensic pathologist, and because he had retired, he had all the time in world to dedicate to those he cared about, including us. Because of Doc, I had the privilege of being with families during some of the darkest days of their lives. It was an honor to be a part of finding answers for them to help them get closure.
I am so thankful to have had such stereotypically perfect grandparents. I’m fortunate that when I was growing up, they lived just down the street, so I got to see them almost every day. They had the uncanny ability to live life in a very calm, unrushed manner. They truly possessed the gift of peace; and whenever I was with them, all my troubles would disappear, and everything was okay. I’m so lucky to have had them for grandparents.
My dad is gone, and his birthday this year is Thanksgiving Day. I’m so glad he took me for rides in his truck, took me trapping and fishing, taught me to change a tire and drive a standard. I’m grateful for his support when I joined the military- when everyone else told me I would be home the first week of boot camp, he cheered me on and told me that if he could do it, I could do it. I’m going to try to remind myself how lucky I am that I had that last little bit of time with him when he was lucid. I got to tell him “thank you” and that I loved him.
I’m thankful for pizza and big smiles, because they make me think of Raymond. Whenever I see a possum or an alligator, I have to smile and think of Sandi- she was fearless when it came to critters! Whenever I take out my badge, or see an airplane, I think of Doc, and I can almost hear him shouting his favorite phrase, “Great Balls of Fire!” When I need something from Jerry’s toolbox, I’m reminded of my grandpa, and the countless woodworking projects he helped me with, and all the bicycle tires he changed for us. Whenever I smell lilacs or see a cardinal, I remember my grandma and her kind soul and soothing voice. When a deer crosses my path, or I see an eagle, I know my dad is near, and he is free, running and flying with them.
I miss all the loved ones from my past, but there are loved ones in the here and now. Not only do I have Jerry, but I have three (soon to be four) sweet and precious boys in my life who I cherish and love from the bottom of my heart. It never fails to bring a smile to my face when one of them says “Aunt Renee, you make the best bacon EVER,” or “A-nay best” (2 year-old speak for “Aunt Renee is the best”). And the giggles that come from the two little ones are so contagious! I could be in the worst, most foul mood ever, and just looking at or talking to one of these sweeties makes everything better.
As for Thanksgiving this year? While I still don’t like tea or pecan pie, I AM a convert to something- you know that paragraph I told you to remember earlier? Yeah, well… I LOVE “dressing.” And Jerry’s mom happens to make dressing that is to die for. She also makes this carrot soufflé stuff that has about 32 pounds of sugar and 12 pounds butter in it, but dang, that stuff is good! I am still sad and bitter, especially this year, since it’s also Dad’s birthday. So I’m not sure how I’ll feel. When pangs of sadness hit, I know there are still things to be happy about. I’ll go poke my sweet “Munky Chunks” so I can listen to him giggle while I’m eating another helping of dressing and carrot soufflé!
Happy Thanksgiving- may your day be happy and filled with love!