We traveled to my sister’s house outside of Washington DC for Thanksgiving. We were smarter this time and stopped for an overnight in Princeton, NJ, instead of trying to do the whole thing in one shot. When we were there three years ago, it took us 15 hours. This time we wisely planned for a break.
During this week of people expressing gratitude, I’ve been struggling a little bit. It’s been an extraordinarily hard year. Things appear to be on the upswing, I don’t feel quite so under siege as I have since this summer, but we are not out of the woods yet.
This Thanksgiving I’m happy that there were no major arguments, that my family has settled into a framework of letting each other live in our own spaces without trying to control each other through judgment and recriminations. We were able to experience this most American of holidays the way it was meant to be celebrated.
I forget what I was doing, something small to help with the prep, when I got to thinking about all those who were not or could not celebrate in this way. Whether because of hospitalization or incarceration, or socioeconomic circumstances, this holiday is not a ritual that all Americans celebrate, and even for some Native Americans it is a day of mourning.
I wish that we were better as a society at celebrating our stories and legends while acknowledging that our recognition of their impact is incomplete and often problematic. I’m thinking now of a pageant-type performance in primary school where we made and wore construction paper pilgrim hats and shoe buckles, along with multi-colored Indian headdresses. One of the songs for this show began “Pilgrims and Indians are friends…” It was appropriately simplistic for a Kindergartner or First-grader. We didn’t know any better; but how much of the darker side of this story did our parents in the audience know? Because of the way these myths have historically been taught, I’m guessing not much. I live near Salem, MA, a city steeped in this kind of history, but almost always taught from the White point of view. How can we do better for our next generations, when we ourselves have had much of this history hidden from us by our privilege?
Washington is an interesting place to be contemplating all of this, especially these days. Since the last time I was there, the National Museum of African American History & Culture opened. I’d been wanting to go there for some time and as it happened, my sister had arranged tickets for us for Thanksgiving morning.
It was interesting and I need to go back at a time when impatient kids are not waiting for me to read every word. We spent awful lot of time with the sports and music figures and less than what I’d hoped for on the politics.
I did find an answer to the question I’d wondered about since the museum first opened; the meaning of the design of the building. It’s shaped like an inverted pyramid and is reminiscent of a crown-like element in African art. But note the pyramid shape atop the Washington monument behind / beside it. That reflection is not an accident. The bronze-colored exterior is meant to invoke the traditional ironwork of African-Americans in the South. Beneath the metal is glass and when the sun shines in, the scrollwork creates intricate shadows on the interior walls. I think it’s one of the only Washington museums not to be constructed with a marble exterior.
On Friday My mother, sister, niece and I went to see the Rodarte exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. My sister is the art person, I had never heard of them, but they are sisters who, among other things, designed the white and black costumes for the Black Swan movie. We were all impressed by how tiny Natalie Portman’s waist must have been.
On Saturday we visited with L’s brother and sister-in-law and their kids. I always feel bad that we get all the way down there and don’t spend more time with them. The kids are closer in age to my boys than their cousins on my side of the family. We got to have breakfast and see their new house before starting the long journey home.
This is never an easy trip to do, but I am so glad for the opportunity to get out of the house and do something different. I needed the change of scenery.