I'll get the depressing story out of the way first.
My family has something of a melancholy history with this holiday, because my grandmother, Shirley, passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 1991.
My mother had spent the better part of the previous year driving back and forth most weekends (200 miles each way) to help care for my grandma during her cancer treatments. My mom was exhausted from the strain, and I also think she couldn't bear to see her mother pass away, so in those last days, my aunts and uncles were taking shifts at the hospital, and my mom was home in Austin.
I flew home from Princeton for the holiday, knowing that it was likely that my grandma would pass away while I was in Minnesota. It was a surreal experience to sit in an airport full of happy holiday travelers when I was headed home for family tragedy.
As it happened, a blizzard was hitting Minneapolis the day I arrived. The plane had to circle above the airport for an hour in the snow as we waited for a runway to be plowed. That's never very comforting.
My sisters met me at the airport, shaky from the stress of driving 100 miles in the storm to get to the airport. "Will you please drive us home?" Erin asked me. Sigh. (Good thing I had resisted my temptation to have multiple cocktails as my flight meandered above Minneapolis in the driving snow.)
We spent a draining, white-knuckled four hours crawling along snow-packed roads in near zero visibility, but we finally made it home safely.
The next day was Thanksgiving. Sad though we were, my mother, sisters, and I still enjoyed cooking the meal together.
The family had just sat down to eat when we got the call from my uncle, who told us that my grandma had died minutes before. If you can imagine a less festive holiday I challenge you to name it.
After crying for a good long while, we choked down our food, and as soon as we finished eating, my mother packed everything up to bring to South Dakota so for my aunts and uncles could have a meal that evening. She and my dad left almost immediately, and my sisters and I planned to drive out the next morning.
We woke up Friday morning to find that an ice storm was blanketing most of southern Minnesota. My sisters and I started the 200 mile drive, but within fifteen minutes our car was encased in ice, and the wipers were sliding uselessly across the windshield.
Through our barely translucent windows, we saw cars and trucks spun into the ditches every few hundred yards. After an hour (and less than ten miles), we turned around and went home.
So, we missed the funeral, as did most of our relatives because the interstate was shut down, and hundreds of flights to Minnesota and South Dakota were canceled.
My sisters and I put up the Christmas tree that night and ate Dominos pizza, because all the tasty turkey left-overs were with the rest of our family, 200 icy miles away.
Not a good Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow, a story of a much better holiday.