THE TURKEY always fell apart.
Its legs rebelled against its torso. Sensing their own increasing significance and vulnerability, the legs yanked and pulled at their own flesh until they could feel the terrible pain of separation. The legs eventually plopped into the boiling bath around the bird.
Inside our turkey, the stuffing, as sensitive as history itself, quivered in the heat of the oven and kept the bird from the disgrace of having a core of cavernous nothing.
My aunt tended the meal in all her shameless solicitude, waiting for the evening congregation.
Celebration was contagious. The political implications of the original holiday were formless utterings. We ate. We drank. We laughed. We quarreled. Only a hardened revolutionary could sit humorless amid his or her family on the fourth Thursday in November and spout political realities that belie the spirit of the holiday.
Yet we were not without our rebellions. I watched some friends of my cousin sporting a new hairstyle, the "Afro." It was the mid-'60s. My fondest memories of Thanksgiving come from that period, my adolescence, that normal period of breaking away from family, which, for me, happened during that turbulent period when America itself seemed a family in turmoil.
These friends, two or three young men, sat on my aunt's kitchen steps looking like black, late-blooming mums. We delighted in the excitement of something new, although it wasn't new, neither the hairstyle nor the name. How many rebels believe, admit or understand they are worrying an old line?
Up to that time I had behaved as most children did on this singularly festive day. There was the preliminary excitement about what size turkey my aunt was going to get. She always called to say she had a big one, and it unfailingly turned out to be as big as a mastodon. My father and mother would laugh about how this aunt lived life at full throttle and in the grandest proportions, paying no mind to the repercussions of overindulgence.
The parade happened in the late afternoon in downtown Baltimore. Looking back now, I realize it was very modest as compared to the Macy's parade in New York, which, when we watched it on television, seemed the endless ribbon of Xerxes' army marching to Greece. But the very fact of our little parade in Baltimore meant that for weeks afterward we would live like happy hedonists. The assorted colors of decorative lights that lighted Thanksgiving became the fruit cake, the remnants of which helped us through the post-holiday blues in January and February.
Into that same kitchen where I had seen the Afro a year or two earlier, I brought my first girlfriend, a woman from Aruba who was give years older than I, home from college. I knew as much about relationships as any of us knows about living in another galaxy. I acted as though I had brought home a trophy. But the end came quickly enough. By Christmas I was nursing a heart chopped like liver, a heart that suffered the same fate as the turkey.
My amorous flops notwithstanding, those were good celebrations. My elders were as young as I am now. I was as young as my son is now. In those days I hungered for a wisdom, and now I hunger for a greater contentment, believing that the realization of wisdom is not enough. Besides, whom will we trust to certify us? Who among us is truly wise?
After the parade, the games we played, the social entrees we made for the boys and girls we brought home to meet our families -- after we had scrambled in from the world, the broken turkey filled us. People who are now gone into that mystery beyond this world were with us then, and people who have since come into this world were existent only in our vague imaginations.
We ate until this world seemed to slowly slip into sleep around us, caught in the grasp of a timeless charm. Even my indefatigable aunt loosened her matriarchal grip.
She called us together then, and she calls now, although the congregation is smaller. Older and grayer heads seem to predominate. The turkey still breaks. My aunt still knows the secret of the miracle of feeding the 5,000.
And we all remember the solemn spirit of gratitude and acknowledgment of divine benevolence she celebrates each Thanksgiving when we bow our heads.
Her name, after all, is Grace.
A poet and playwright, Michael S. Weaver teaches at Rutgers University.