If I remember it right, and I should be able to do that since this is my story, though its really about my brother Ron, it all began when I came home from school and found the house locked, not a soul, especially not my mother, who was a stay at home mom – well, as I was saying, not a soul in sight! If that had happened a year before I wouldn’t have banged at the front and back doors hollering for someone to let me in. Nor would my angst have led me to believe that the unthinkable had happened, and my family – mom and all – had moved while I was at school, a horrid punishment for crimes I had not committed. Yet the mind of a child seems, or at least in my case, finds the fault hers. So with no grandma living next-door to run to with my problems as I had done until we moved, and without any idea what to do next, I cried myself to sleep as the sun set, and a chill wind reminded me that it was almost Thanksgiving.
A voice seemed to call to me while hands grabbed mine insisting that I stand when all I wanted to do was sink back into the oblivion of the ice-cold cement slab I was laying on. As Mrs. Bauer rubbed my chilled hands with hers, she looked at the yellow stain on our porch. I saw what she did, realized my panties were wet, and knew that in my distress, or perhaps because of it, I had peed my pants! It seems odd now, looking back on feeling abandoned, that I found it comforting that our neighbor did not mention what I knew she had seen. Instead she took hold of my hand with a firm grasp, and pulled me of the porch as I screamed, “I can’t leave! My family will be back and mom always told me to wait here if anything happened!”
“Their not going to come,” was all she said as she led me up the hill to her place. Their not going to come! I couldn’t believe my ears. What did I do that was so bad that their not ever going to come? I wanted to yell. But all I did was…NOTHING! After all what could a child do to get her family to care enough to come?
Of course everything worked out all right. My weekend from hell was endured, and then my parents picked me up acting as if nothing unusual had happened. They pretended, and taking my que from them, so did I.
Suddenly it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving. Only there was a big problem, from the moment my parents had picked me up, our family was missing one person – my brother Ron. And odd as it might seem, no one – well neither mom nor dad - talked about him, so I didn’t either. But as the time for baking drew near I noticed that mom didn’t ask me to crack nuts, nor did she bring home a turkey. Needing to know what was going on, I snuck from my bedroom to the family room imitating the GI’s I had seen in war movies. I had done this so I could watch TV when I was supposed to be asleep. Now, with the need to know what was going on uppermost in my mind, I used the skill I had honed, and heard about my brothers’ radical Mastoid operation on both ears and the fact that the doctors had told my parents that most likely the surgery would kill him! Even if the surgery were a success, the infection he had was life threatening, and because the surgery would allow the toxins that had built up in his system to become systemic and invade every area, even if he survived the surgery there were no guarantees that he would live. Dad was holding mom and both of them were crying. I wanted to join them. However, young as I was, it was obvious that they didn’t need needy me hanging on to them. So as I sunk back to bed, I told myself, Sometimes secrets are a good thing.
I don’t remember if they ever told me the details of all Ron was facing. Perhaps they did. But I don’t think so because the first memory I have of my brother was him in a ground floor hospital room, surrounded by mom and dad, and me standing outside in the cold wind holding our dog. Ron smiled and waved to the dog. He seemed not to see me, nor did he wave. But he was all smiles – although I though that he had forced those smiles to ally our parents worries. His head was so bandaged that it was triple its usual size. And I found myself worrying that what I had overheard had happened and his infection had spread.
As the sun began to set, my folks joined me outside. We waved goodbye and headed home. While in the car I learned that the surgery had been so radical that my parents had called our rabbi, and asked for prayer. It wasn’t until the next Saturday while attending Shabbat school that I discovered that there had been a twenty-four hour prayer vigil for Ron. Now everyone was all smiles, happy that he was doing well and would soon be home. Not wanting to upset anyone with my tail of woe which, next to life threatening surgery, seemed insignificant I agreed with them, and thanked them for all they had done.
Now 64, I look back on this experience as a defining moment for each of us. For each of us made choices that set our feet firmly upon a path they may, as in my parents’ case, have traveled before, or, as in my brothers and my case, wandered down many times since then. For me that sad weekend when I felt abandoned followed by a week of not knowing where my brother was, and weeks of not knowing if he was going to be alright instilled within me a desire to protect and nurture those I love. That I never spoke of what I felt or asked why they had forgotten about me was part and parcel of who I became in large part due to this episode. As far as how these events affected the rest of my family, I have my ideas, but since I am not a mind-reader, I will leave it to them to share if they wish, or to you – my reader to embellish, if you must.
The one gem that I took from this episode, the one that for me made and continues to make that long ago Thanksgiving that we celebrated together – mom, dad, me, and Ron, a week prior to Christmas joyous, was the tradition I unknowingly instituted by asking before we began our meal if each of us would share what we were most thankful for. The sharing that occurred that day brought smiles to our faces, and tears to our eyes. Each year since that sad one – the year I really thought we would never have anything to be thankful for again – my family – husband Ron, daughters Danae, and Cheryl, and whomever else is with us take time to speak out loud the reason this season is one of thanks. And in saying what matters most to us – family, friends, faith, and our commitment to each other and God, we affirm that this really is a season of and we really have many reasons to give thanks for everything - even those things that seem at the time to take the thanks out of Thanksgiving!
If you have a Thankful Story that you would like me to post on this blog during this season, email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org