As a child, the holidays were always a magical time in the household I grew up in. Fine home cooking, holiday treats and a huge variety of home baked cookies. Whether the feast was hosted by my mother, one of her sisters or a Great Aunt, the Thanksgiving table could have been a scene form a Norman Rockwell painting or a photo shoot for Bon Appetite.
Christmas was no different, with the exception of the overwhelming surprise of the bounty of gifts that seemed to be larger than the Christmas Tree itself.
New Year’s Day was more of an event than the night before as some feast was prepared to herald in the New Year.
This is not to say there wasn’t dysfunction in the family and nerves were worked to a fray.
This all changed in young adulthood when I moved into my own life and the jobs I took had me working on the holidays. I tried to recreate some of the magic but it wasn’t the same. I was invited into other family situations as a guest, and that certainly was different, except for the unraveling of nerves.
As my drinking and drugging became more of a way of life, the holidays became the darkest of times. In the later years, I actually became so wigged out by the holidays that I abstained from drinking around Christmas, but never through New Years Eve.
When I first went through rehab in 1997, my roommate worked for a non profit as resource manager, cold calling and soliciting goods for the organization. As I was just re-entering society and somewhat unemployable, I volunteered with company for a while. When he was murdered in a violent drug scenario, I approached his employer and said “As odd as this seems, you have a job opening and I need a job” I started the next day.
One of the corner stones of this organization was it’s “Home for the Holidays” food program that fed some 3500 economically challenged people on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The first year that I resourced the goods for Thanksgiving meal, it was all too wild when it came together. It was actually the first time I felt “whole” or “connected” on a holiday in many years.
The gig at the non-profit lasted three years and I resourced 6 holiday meals over that time. I left the charity to pursue a corporate path.
Over the last few years, I offer myself as volunteer to some nonprofit in whatever city I am in as I tend travel around the holidays.
This year, I am back in Palm Springs CA and volunteered with the organization called Well in the Desert. The church where the event was being held was one of the locations I used to go for a food handout to when I was a strung out homeless drug addict before I went to rehab. That was clearly on my mind as I walked in the door to begin my shift.
Most of the volunteers wanted to work front of house, so I hung out back in the kitchen and assisted the chef as we ran pans of hot food out to the serving line. In between, it was basic kitchen duty: drying the chafing dish pans after they were washed, prepping salad and/or cranberries, making coffee, assembling some to go plates.
It suddenly dawned on me that the people that surrounded me today were just like the cast of characters at the nonprofit I worked for years earlier. There was the guiding matriarch, the founding father, the beatnik staff, the troubled ones (the slight reflection of self), the personable photographer, the entertainers, the off-key singers.
I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment and satisfaction as I looked around and saw all this energy unfolding around me… and felt a deep understanding of how far I have come in the last 17 years. A well of emotion surged through me and tears blurred my vision. I stepped out side into the California sunlight and let the surge flow through me.
As the event wound down and some of the street folk arrived at the last minute to ask for food…I was faced with the true reflection of what I was once was, and my heart ached for these two last minute food seekers.
After the event, I went to my friends house where I am staying and went next door, as I was invited over for Thanksgiving. Since I was late and at 52 years old, the “kid” in the room, I was placed at the far end of the table at a card table, on a folding chair. I was offered plates of bounty but declined as I had snacked some at the event I had just left. So I sat and sipped green tea and took part in the conversation with these old timers.
I finally gave in and ate. All of the food was prepared from scratch and made for this meal, there was nothing store bought, heat to eat. There was a cookie that looked like my mom’s “Tea Time Tassies”, which is a mini pecan pie type confection. I bit into it and it tasted EXACTLY like my mom’s cookie. I began to sample other treats and everything tasted like my mom’s food.
The guy immediately to my right has lived here for decades and shared stories on his time living here. He seemed at times to become lost, searching for a word, a phrase, an organizations name and I would ask “was it ________” and deliver the word, phrase or name to him. He smiled at me as I did this and said “yes, that’s it” It was cool how I knew what he searched for.
After a couple hours of conversation, laughter and some history lessons, I accepted the host’s offer and filled up a plate to take home.
Back “home” flopped on the couch, I recall the day. “…no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…”