I love this time of year, when the weather begins to cool and I can haul out my coat from the deep recesses of the closet. Aside from it being the holiday season, the spattering of rain and blustery winds never fail to make me reflect on and remember moments that have blessed my life.
For me, the season officially begins with Halloween. As a kid, my parents went all-out for this spooky day, making it an annual tradition to dress up and decorate, turning the garage into a haunted house for all the neighborhood children. With a cassette tape blaring ghostly sounds, we passed out candy to friends and neighbors who dared approach. I vividly remember one year my mom transforming into an incredible zombie – with the skyrocketing popularity of the undead, I like to think of her as the one who started it all.
Living on a country road in San Martin, I haven’t had trick-or-treaters in years, so I’ve fallen off the Halloween bandwagon. This year however, a group of friends and I gussied up in costume, grabbed our pets and enjoyed a dog parade, all while collecting dog cookies from downtown businesses along the route. My new dog, Bailey – truly a blessing in disguise – was a hit prancing around in a skunk costume, sometimes charming the folks passing out goodies enough to get an extra treat.
But Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday. Aside from the abundance of amazing food, it’s almost always the one time of year I can count on a large gathering of my extended family. And, at the risk of sounding sappy, that’s genuinely what I’m thankful for: Being surrounded by people I love and knowing they love me right back.
My immediate family typically has two Thanksgivings, due to my police sergeant brother working most holidays. He and his family visited last weekend, and we – my parents, my brother, his wife, my niece and my new nephew in a swing nearby – sat down around the table and celebrated. It’s times like these that I remember how my brother and I fought as children, and how grateful I am that we’ve grown into adults – sort of – and can share in each other’s lives. Loving his children and being involved with them is a blessing.
As people travel about, as smells waft from kitchens around the South Valley, Bailey and I will join in a Thanksgiving gathering of aunts, uncles and cousins (and dogs) at my aunt’s home in Los Banos. She graciously opens her home for many events during the year, but Thanksgiving is the one I look forward to most. Having a large group of family around gives me the most opportunity to consider how fortunate I am – and also the most potential substance for future columns (just don’t tell any of them).
It’s also during the holidays that I reflect on the lives of my grandparents. Although they’re all gone now, I was fortunate enough to have all four in my life for many years. I remember so much about all of them: My maternal grandma, Naunnie, hand-churning homemade ice cream; my maternal grandpa, Popo, tinkering in the garage among his yard sale “treasures”; and on my dad’s side, Grandma teaching me church hymns on her little organ and Grandpa, with his tattooed arms, passing out Cokes to the grandkids.
As my parents – now grandparents themselves – head toward their 44th anniversary in January, I realize I’m fortunate to not only still have both of them involved in my life, but that they still hold hands after all these years.
After today, the season often revs up and we sometimes forget what we were so thankful for just moments ago. The Christmas countdown begins.
But I admit, I love Christmas too. Not only is it another family-related holiday with festive songs and decorations, my birthday falls on Dec. 23. At my age, that’s not much to get excited about – and because of the awkward date, friends rarely celebrate with me – but I smile when I think back to the birthdays of my childhood. People tend to comment how hard it must have been when I was a kid, but my parents always made an effort to keep my “big” day and Christmas completely separate. And for that, I’m thankful.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Today, I’ll pause for a moment. In all the hectic planning and traveling and cooking and eating, I’ll take a deep breath, glance around at the people who surround me, at the plentiful food on the table, and feel an extreme sense of gratitude.
I hope you do too.