Reasons to be thankful

I’m writing this just as Thanksgiving Day is winding down. Growing up I thought it was a holiday exclusive only to Americans until one such Thursday during our college days, my sister’s boyfriend-then-and-husband-now, who at one time lived in the States, took us to dinner. The four of us (my sister and I and our boyfriends) trooped to Eddie’s Log Cabin in Cebu, back when it had no other branches in the metropolis yet, and although I am not quite sure if we did have turkey and stuffing that night I do remember us all eating a wicked amount of the delicious apple pie the place is famous for. It felt nice and strange and so grown-up, celebrating a holiday that I only knew of from the movies.

Awakened and enlightened, several thanksgiving celebrations followed after that. And somewhere within all those celebrations, impromptu and informal as they all have been, I learned to eat and maybe even like turkey — something I did not exactly warm to immediately, maybe because I always was overwhelmed at how big the bird is (still am). I also learned to love stuffing. I now know there are many different kinds of stuffing but I count myself blessed to have fallen in love with the first one I tried. Made by Richard’s lola Lydia, her recipe is chockfull of all the red and reddish-brown odds and ends that constitute the inside of a turkey’s cousin, the chicken — liver, heart, gizzard, all slivered. Loads of garlic.  Crushed Skyflakes. Fresh black pepper, dried sage (lots of it!), oregano, thyme, fresh rosemary. I’m sure there was salt somewhere in the mix. It’s cooked in layers, the brown ones making friends with the garlic very slowly and surely, until whatever funky smell they intrinsically have is all gone. They stay together in the pan for a very long time, until the rest of the ingredients are slowly added in. Some stirring and quite a bit of patience later, it’s ready. It is delicious, do not judge how ordinary and lumpy it looks, and can be eaten hot or very cold straight from the refrigerator. Either way, it is best to have it with crushed pineapple, the kind that conveniently comes in a can. If that is not available then cranberry sauce will work just fine. I eat this the whole year round, even without turkey. When lola Lydia passed, Richard took over, cooking a big batch from time to time. My sweet man. He does it so well, too.

Today’s celebration was everything Thanksgiving should be. It started with a happy lunch at the cozy home of Tita Carmel, she who makes delicious bottled products. (Call her at 911-3443 if you want to stock up on Christmas food giveaways.) Each bottle is dressed up with a nice paper cap, pretty label and nice ribbon. I digress, but yes, lunch was at her place.  I was with my older barkada (by that I mean they are all old enough to be my mom). There were nine of us today, one missing as she was out of town, and I love being with all of them. There’s always some funny conversation happening at every turn, some hilarious comment blurted out, and I’m thinking maybe it’s because they are all at that age when they can be unapologetically real. I like how they poke fun at themselves, how they wonder almost fearfully about fillers and Botox, how nonchalant they are about celebrating their choices, how they do not take themselves too seriously. One of them jokes every year, as she did again today as I was on my way out: “Pssst… Lucy, ilubong mo kami tanan ha?” (“You bury all of us, okay?”) and then she laughs merrily.  My favorite aunt, Tita Inday, who was right beside her, laughs just as merrily. The thought freaks me out, but I marvel at how fearless they all are. That’s it. Fearlessness. Does time give you that? Another one of them is gung-ho in a very funny way. She related how recently she got into a traffic altercation that stressed her so much, before she knew it she had punched the driver of the other car. Punch. And it must have been some sight, this lady with a full head of white hair, because the crowd clapped as the driver sped off. These ladies, they laugh at life and life laughs right back at them. It’s wonderful and beautiful. They all lead such full, robust days still, and because of my exposure to them, I do not fear growing old for as long as I can be as merry as they all are, individually and collectively. We do this yearly, this get-together, but today for the first time it fell on Thanksgiving Day no less, and that makes everything more special. Tita Inday, Tita Ping, Tita Nina, Tita Issa, Tita Ana, Tita Polly, Tita Charry, Tita Carmel, Tita Tess — I am thankful for all of you. I wish get-togethers like this did not have to happen just once a year!

After lunch I had a shoot, and I was prepped by Jerome and Lerma for makeup and hair, respectively.  They are reliable and wonderful, and Jerome always makes me laugh endlessly. I love them dearly, and yes, am very thankful for them. Dinner was with one of my dearest friends, Denise. It was her birthday celebration tonight and I have many memories and conversations with her, even if we met just several years ago. She always makes me laugh, even when she isn’t even trying to be funny to begin with, and that just always cracks me up all the more. She has sensible but very funny thoughts and I always say that I wish I had met her much earlier.

The past two years have pretty much gone by in a blur for me. Yes, my world has grown bigger by way of my life in public service and although I’ve had a very purposeful period, the same has also meant I spent less time with my friends (and to think I don’t really go out with that many). There are even groups I have not been able to see the whole year, although we are able to keep in touch through SMS. I remember when connecting with them happened regularly, spontaneously, and I miss that. Being with family and friends feeds the spirit. Somehow I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the years will always find us all so busy, just in different ways. Sometimes it’s okay, other times you know it’s not, but today, after sizing up both ends of the spectrum, I am thankful for all that is still there; thank God that some things really do not change, and that generally people are essentially who they are. I am hopeful, too, that I can work doubly hard at balancing my life such that when the same holiday rolls out next year I can honestly say I’ve enriched my life even more by not just knowing I have all these people in my life, but also spending quality time with them at different points throughout the year.

And so in the name of stuffing and a holiday called Thanksgiving Day, I thank God for all that today was, and for making me realize what I want tomorrow to be.


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