Once we start cooking and have hours to think while waiting for the turkey to hit 165, the temptation places ourselves in the historically questionable narrative of the “First Thanksgiving” – helpful natives sharing a bench with buckle-hatted outcasts for a feast of local game and new world grains – becomes borderline irresistible. We are, after all, both the pilgrims fleeing lack-of-religion persecution and the natives gathering exotically Kickstarted jams to supplement traditional fare.
My own narrative begins many moons back. A chance encounter on the street helping an older Polish neighbor to get her groceries upstairs led to regularly assisting her with everyday tasks. The experience has provided a great lens through which I can more accurately view the impact of my own life on this neighborhood.
For example, it’s very difficult for an able-bodied twentysomething to appreciate how detrimental to quality of life the poor quality of our sidewalks can be to someone in a wheelchair, and helping someone who does face these challenges makes them more real. The neighborhood’s changing demographic has brought with it changes physical, economic, and social – if my own residence here and the restaurants, bars, police presence, farmer’s markets, and upscale bakeries that accompany young, employed consumers today serve to make her life harder, how can I justify them to myself?
After several years of making the Bronx-Whitestone exodus, I decided that this year I would brave supermarket rather than toll lines and invite both my parents and older neighbor. When I called to invite her, the deity of your choice intervened- she had just won a turkey that would feed exactly my number of guests at her senior center. Like instant stuffing, it was a Thanksgiving miracle.
Her conversation over dinner was telling in addressing the main point I’ve raised about the net influence of our demographic. The government assistance she receives each month is borderline insufficient under ideal circumstances, and is stretched thinner by prices rising locally. She knows rising prices are connected to the influx of my demographic, though she also enjoys the company of these same people individually. She has a great talent (that I hope to learn by spending time with her) for making conversation with passers-by on the street, and draws a great deal of energy and enjoyment from meeting the tourists, yuppies, and weirdos who flock to what is now a destination neighborhood. Her experience has been that these people have been more open and more helpful to her on an individual level than many of others who had been around her, though that’s of course due to the individuals she’s known and not meant as a generalization about either group. While she knows prices are rising and new people are moving in, she doesn’t seem to hold this against the individuals she talks to, reluctant to assign blame for these hardships on any one person.
How is any of this relevant to thanksgiving? I see both the myth and the modern reality of the holiday as being one where we try to make the best home we can with what and who we have available to us. When that happens in a place we’ve chosen as our own for perhaps the first time as independent adults, we have no choice but to review our own roles as active participants in the narrative of that place. Questions of where we do or do not belong are effortlessly trumped by statements of where we now are. If there are any excuses one can make to themselves for carelessness as a temporary outsider, deciding to hold your thanksgiving here forfeits them.