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Giving Thanks to the Past and Present

I'm thankful that I grew out of my fat stage.

Today has proven to be a weird one. Not so much in a bad way, but just in a different kind of way. I can’t really describe the feelings I’m having, but I guess it’s a melting pot of nostalgia, wonder, excitement and yes, a little homesickness. For the past 23 years, I’ve had the privilege to spend every Thanksgiving with my family. I know everyone says it, but I honestly could not ask for better parents, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and I guess my sister can be thrown in there too (just kidding, Suzannah, you’re all right with me!) So, when I came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving this year, I did what any other person would do: I simply didn’t think about it. Nothing like suppressing feelings by pretending they won’t happen.

So, when my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, I went through the same routine as any other day. I checked the weather (which lied to me again, seeing as it was substantially colder out than it led me to believe) threw on some clothes, grabbed my snowboard and boots, and headed out the door for the mountain.

As I drove down the road, I had to keep reminding myself that it was, in fact, Thanksgiving Day, and in houses all around me were kids watching the Macy’s Day Parade as their parents (or mothers – let’s be real) were slaving away in the kitchen. Still, the thought of it didn’t really faze me. Today would be my first visit to Keystone of the season, and I was excited to see what the mountain had to offer. I turned the stereo up, cranked the heat, and watched the ice that so frequently collects on the inside of my windshield slowly dissipate and drip upon my dashboard. Yes, it’s often that cold that I have to scrape ice from the inside of my windows. Awesome.

But as I pulled into Keystone, I was surprised to see the vast number of cars already situated in the parking lot. It wasn’t a bunch of mid-twenty-year-olds like myself lacing up their boots and adjusting their coats, but rather whole families. Moms, dads, kids, cousins – everyone seemed to be eager to go ride with each other bright and early on this Thanksgiving Day.

And that’s when it hit me – perhaps this was tradition for these people.

Suddenly, my imagination began to run wild like it ever so frequently does, and I began to craft intricate stories in my head to complement each passing family.  Who knows, maybe years ago someone’s grandparents decided it would be fun to take their kids and grandchildren to the slopes before they gorged themselves on turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pie and wine.

I pictured a family scurrying back to the car after a day of riding, all piled up in a station wagon with the smell of musty ski boots and sweat permeating with the running of the A/C. Little Johnny is crying in the backseat because he bruised his tailbone when he decided it would be wise to straight-line the moguls, and Suzy, who’s been forced to sit in the fold up seat in the trunk – surrounded by the musty boots and the sharp edges of her parents’ skis, which are ready to slice open her jugular if Dad were to slam on the brakes – is complaining about having to sit at the kids’ table again this year. I mean, she is 15 now, and that’s old enough.

I pictured them squeezing through the doorway of Dad’s sister’s house, juggling the skis, boots and helmets with the green bean casserole and bottle of wine. Johnny is complaining again because the tupperware container full of dinner rolls is hurting his tailbone.

“You’re arms aren’t hurt!” his mother tells him.

And as they get into the house, Dad naturally tosses everything to the ground and scampers to the basement where his brother-in-law is already tuned into the football game. It’s just about halftime, and he has to be caught up on every play, stat, injury and cheerleader uniform change. Neither one of them care about either team, but hey, it’s football, what else should they care about?

I’ll stop there, seeing as, at this rate, I could go on forever. But, as I created these seemingly ridiculous stories this morning about family traditions, I began to think about my own family and the little things that made holidays “holidays” for us. We were no different than anyone else. We were always late to get to my aunt’s house, my little brother would always be complaining about the smallest task – like carrying a tupperware container filled with painstakingly heavy dinner rolls, I would probably still be stuck at the kids’ table at the ripe old age of 23, but now with a glass of wine, and of course we had those lovable uncles who threatened to stuff my little brother in the turkey, or always came prepared with a flask of Crown Royal to any and all family gatherings – I love both of them for it.

I then thought about the ridiculous conversations we would have at the dinner table. We may not have seen each other since Easter, but we always seemed to pick up right where we left off. I thought about the time I drank an entire bottle of wine on Christmas a few years ago, and how we laughed it off the following year, despite my fear of being labeled the “family drunk.” Then I thought about family vacations – going to the beach and having not a single care in the world, save for the fear of getting stung by a jellyfish or the possibility that the ice cream man may be cleaned out of shark popsicles. I thought about the time when my cousin (who is now in college) pulled his pants down on the beach and literally pissed into the ocean. Good times.

And after reminiscing on all of this – and I continue to do so at this very moment – I fear that I’m missing out on some of these memories by being 1,700 miles away. Actually, I know that I’m missing out, and that’s what eats me up inside. At this very second – it’s 2:54 here, 4:54 in Maryland – my family is probably gathered around the table, recounting the same stories and memories that are circling through my clouded head. I think about an empty chair at the table and can only hope that my family misses my sarcastic, borderline not-dinner-appropriate comments that will get under my little brother’s skin and ultimately lead to my mom reprimanding my older brother.

But at the same time, I understand that change is certain. Traditions are never made if they are never started, and who knows, maybe snowboarding at Keystone on Thanksgiving will be something I share with my family one day – I just hope that we’re not all squeezed in a station wagon (and obviously my kids will be snowboarders, not skiers). Although our traditions may be different, they will still carry with them the memories and pieces of traditions that I held so close to as a child and now as an “adult.” And realistically, I have no idea where I’ll even be this time next year. I could be back home in Maryland. I could be here (I hope). Hell, I could be in Alaska.

Regardless, today has – oddly enough – proven to be the most meaningful Thanksgiving for me, and I guess I didn’t really realize it until I started to write it all out. In the past, I’ve been “thankful” for plenty of things: I’ve told myself to be appreciative of family, friends, my upbringing, all my opportunities in life, but I don’t think I was truly – in my heart – grateful for them. Rather, I knew I should be grateful, but wasn’t necessarily genuinely grateful – if that makes any sense.

I guess the age-old saying, “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” kind of applies here. Being disconnected from my friends and family on a day where I’ve become accustomed to having them close has certainly made me realize just how important they are – and just how lucky I am. I’ve been blessed with a great childhood, the most loving family, and the loyalest of friends. I’ve had opportunities at the age of 23 that some people will never see in their lifetime, and being in Colorado is definitely one of them. I could be at home, working constantly and blowing my money on beer and some worthless girl like I did all summer, but I’m not. I get to snowboard every day…and it’s only November. There aren’t many people who can say that. Sure, I don’t make much money as of now, but it’s a stepping stone, and on top of it, I’ve already met a number of people who I’m confident will be my friends for years to come. That’s priceless.

Today really has been strange. Part of me yearns for home, while the other part basks in the present. I’m torn between what was, what is and what could be, and it’s left me in a sort of confused frame of mind – but in a good way. I’ve had some time to reflect, and it’s definitely opened my eyes to a new perspective on life at the moment. I’ve learned that it’s important to explore and to be adventurous; to see new places and meet new people, but at the same time, I’ve realized that it’s just as vital to remember where you came from and who you came from; to stay what you are. And who I am is something  I think I can be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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