By Jasper Fu
Then and now…
By JASPER FU
The most vivid Thanksgiving I can remember rose over a sunny November evening, some time in my fifth grade. Daylight savings had come and gone, giving us an hour of much-needed sleep at the cost of an hour of much-needed sunlight; but even so, this was California, which meant that for all the efforts of the United States Government we still had at least some sunlight. It meant that we did not feel the biting chill of the oncoming winter so much as we felt a prompting nibble; it meant that soon, we would have to swap flip flops and shorts for sneakers and jeans and perhaps – God forbid – a windbreaker.
Not for us any autumnal splendor, no sense of an august August except basketball courts abandoned a half an hour earlier as stormclouds hovered pregnant and ominous overhead, as the sun set just a little bit too soon for the comfort of worried parents. There was nothing to declare a Fall in flight or a Winter in hot pursuit, only the grim march of shorter days towards longer nights.
The innocent glory of lazy summer days, of time wasted for the sake of wasted time was only just beginning to fade as the harsh specter of unending academia arose. And that meant days dominated by the harsh but unfortunately less spectral Ms. Preston, handing out with malicious glee two-paragraph book reports and two-page papers, double spaced, Times New Roman, twelve-point font, one-inch margins, and not thirteen–point font with one–point–two–five margins, because I can tell; I’ve been teaching here for twenty years, so don’t think you can try any trick I haven’t seen a hundred times before.
But of course, that didn’t matter now. Thanksgiving was here, and that meant Thanksgiving break, a short but welcome reprieve from the controlled chaos of Ms. Preston’s fifth grade class. It meant a tumultuous trip in a packed car over winding roads of Fremont mountains to reach my grandparent’s house, an old and rickety construction that somehow managed to feel at the same time a place of wild adventure and yet cozily comfortable from its popcorn ceiling to its as-of-yet untamed basement, where be dragons and, perhaps more likely, forbidden cans of Coke nestled among unpronounceably mysterious candies that likely predated the Vietnam War.
It meant the flourished reveal of the old, leatherette table that folded out in a way that always succeeded in almost avoiding my shin, that creaked and shuddered under its own weight, to say nothing of the cornucopia that would soon straddle it. It meant a glimpse into the gleaming steel pot into which my father had poured a literal ton of brine and turkey and the last three days of his life, salted with the mysterious spices of a carefully-guarded recipe. It meant a kitchen crowded to twice its capacity, some cooking, some trying to help, and me, its air filled with mixing scents and shouts and song and – occasionally – screams, as I inevitably managed to injure myself.
It meant resigned admonishments to stay out of the kitchen, and free reign of the house and yard watched only by my grandmother, my A-Ma, who for all her carefree kindness was firmly of the belief that children were better served by freedom than by restraint. It meant a failed attempt to climb an orange-tree-topped hill that failed again, and spectacularly when I decided that the only thing that was missing was a running start. It meant, with the assistance of my A-Ma, the discovery of a rusty ladder that could, if properly braced and planted, lift me to the top of the hill where I could just about reach the lowest fruit, if I stretched just a little and grabbed it and looked down and could you please help me down now I don’t think I can get down by myself can you just make the ladder shorter really quickly if you can.
Thanksgiving meant, when I finally found my way back to the dining room, bruised and exhausted but triumphantly clutching an admittedly stunted orange, as I took my seat next to a mother that wondered (for neither the first nor the last time) how I had managed to endanger myself so severely and so quickly, as contented conversation arose over a veritable feast of food both home-made and Safeway-made, that Fall in its dying breaths of pumpkin pie and fresh-out-of-the-box stuffing shielded me once more from the ills of the greater world in general and Ms. Preston in its more pressing particular.
Jasper Fu ([email protected]) is very thankful.