THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT (October 12, 2020)
When I moved to Canada in 1994, to celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving was a little weird for me. The American Thanksgiving used to be our big holiday in Buffalo, and from the time I was a little boy, that was always the occasion when my family would gather. For the last 20 years of my parents’ lives, there were always at least 20 to 30 guests at our house for Thanksgiving dinner. Those guests included friends, relatives, and sometimes complete strangers. Our Thanksgiving celebrations were an excellent litmus test for the strength of a budding relationship. There is no better way to vet a potential spouse than to throw him or her into the middle of a bizarre family holiday gathering. If they survive, they may be keepers. I’m not saying MY immediate family was dysfunctional, but some of our relatives certainly fit the bill. Add alcohol to the equation and those Thanksgiving celebrations could be terribly entertaining. Thankfully, I did most of my foolhardy drinking in bars, after the family gatherings and far from the harsh judgment of a camera lens. Still, I sometimes wish I had taped some of the conversations I’d had with our guests. One uncle, proudly boasting of his son’s athletic achievements in high school, turned to me and asked rhetorically, “But you were never any good at sports, were you?” Every Thanksgiving, another uncle asked me how things were going in college, even though I had graduated many years before and I’d been working in the family business for over 5 years since. There was inappropriate kissing of the elderly, dogs vomiting after being fed hors d’oeuvres, red wine spilled on the carpet, and food fights at the kiddie table. I often sat at the kiddie table. Once, one of our younger (and claustrophobic) guests accidentally locked himself into the guest bathroom, and began to panic. Kicking the door violently, and screaming: “Open the g-dam door!”, he was apparently unaware of the note on the door warning about the broken lock. We had to remove the door to get him out. Such language from a child! Finally, there was the episode when someone put liquid dishwashing soap in the dishwasher, instead of dishwasher soap, and the mistake was not discovered until suds were creeping along the kitchen floor and into the dining room. The kitchen looked like a giant bubble bath.
My favourite parts of the feast were the after-dinner toasts. Every year at Thanksgiving, someone would be called upon to give a toast acknowledging our thanks and gratitude for our good fortune. My father was decidedly the most eloquent of the toastmasters, but no matter who got up to say something, the speeches were meaningful, emotional, and always well received. At the time, I took it all for granted and assumed I was being appropriately thankful. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
A habitual negative thinker, I am currently reading a book about changing that behavior. Especially considering everything currently going on in the world, the timing might be right for a little emotional tune-up. Two things are mentioned repeatedly as basic tools to combat negativity. One is acceptance and love of oneself. I am reminded of the Stuart Smalley skit (played by the now disgraced Al Franken) on Saturday Night Live, wherein Stuart looks at his reflection in the mirror and affirms his self-love. I used to scoff at that kind of Pollyanna approach to life, but the older I get, the less inclined I am to make fun of it. The other main theme of the book is the healing properties of gratitude and forgiveness. The fact is, I have plenty for which to be thankful, and the exercise of vocalizing it has been therapeutic for me. In an original song entitled “Scrapbook”, which I wrote when we began to build our log home, and which last week went to #1 on the Hunters Bay Radio Top 20 chart (remember, self-affirmation is good), I speak of storing the good memories to shore myself up against the bad times. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am becoming genuinely more thankful for the good fortune I have experienced. First and foremost, that includes the love of my wife, my family, and friends, and the importance of music and writing. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Stay safe and healthy and kind to each other.
Written by Jamie Oppenheimer ©2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED