Lauren Gregory, who was raised on a horse farm, discovered a love for writing in sixth grade when she learned she could move people with words. She misplaced that love for a couple decades and traveled the world in the Navy, floundered through two college degrees, and embarked on raising a rowdy son who’s too much like her. She found that love again on a cold November morning in 2013, and they’ve been locked in a tortured embrace ever since.
These days, she writes novels, maintains a history blog, and herds poodles in her native Colorado.
I scurry about the house, jittery, focusing on everything I must accomplish. It’s always like this. In the hours before everyone arrives, the idea of the family dinner intimidates me. I try to conjure ideas for witty conversation while spreading table cloths and pulling dishes from cabinets, but when the time comes, all wit escapes me.
Seasons mark the passage of time, like generations retiring to make room for the young. Some people like spring. The new growth and cool showers rejuvenate them. Others like summer, basking in the heat and outdoor fun. And those who baffle me with their affinity for the snow and teeth-chattering short days of winter. My favorite is autumn. I love the warm colors fluttering, falling like rain drops from the trees. I love the metallic tang in the air when I step outside. And despite my nerves, I love Thanksgiving, and a large family dinner. Everyone leaves their far-flung corners to gather for sustenance, physical and emotional.
I set out silverware and plates, arrange napkins, and devise a centerpiece. As I move about the long, make-shift arrangement of tables lined end-to-end, I envision my family, already in their chairs, chattering and laughing as they wait for the feast. As I notice a similarity of traits in my clan, the image focuses on three figures.
My grandfather sits at the head of the table. His balding head gleams in the soft light, his large frame cocked to the left, with his elbows planted on the table. His huge hands, seamed with wrinkles and age spots that belie my childhood memories of a man in his prime, link loosely together just below his square chin. Thin lips press together in the slightest of smiles. It’s difficult to tell if his smile is the outward expression of superiority, which lies just below the surface, or just mild amusement. There’s something fantastic in his shoulders, in the way he holds them, as if an invisible mantle hangs upon them that bestows a greater…everything. He pulls his shoulders back and holds them straight, steadfast. They embody the pride he carries with him, like a coat of armor, inspiring admiration for the soldier of years past. His shoulders have carried large burdens, too heavy for many men. They project strength and security. But armor can shield too well, preventing true closeness and intimacy. I’m certain I’ll never peel that armor back quite far enough to see what hides underneath.
I picture my brother. He sits much looser, without the rigid control of the man beside him; he projects less visible tension. But as he shifts in his chair, I spot the signs of restlessness. He’s never still for long. His hands, so similar to his grandfather’s, are gentler in some indefinable way. They rest upon the table, then cradle the back of his head as he leans back with a sigh. The arms are thinner, more sinuous, but his shoulders mimic his ancestor’s. Not quite as broad, but they have the same lines. I see the deeper differences, though. These shoulders speak of more pain endured and truly felt; absorbed rather than deflected. They don’t offer the same inviting impression of security. They are much more vulnerable, less guarded. But I know they shelter a warm heart within. The armor isn’t as thick, but it’s made from the same resilient material and formed from the same mold.
Last, I see my son in my vision. The thought brings a tightening in my chest, an unbearable ache, a need to hold him close and keep him always within my reach. He squirms in his chair, that dazzling, mischievous smile lighting upon anyone who looks his way. Overwhelmed by the larger-than-normal crowd and attention, his eyes flicker to me for reassurance.
He reminds me of the leaves swirling in a blustery autumn breeze, free and loose. Yet his excitement prompts a virtual vibration of his entire body, invisible energy on the verge of explosion. He sits straight, then leans to grab the cup belonging to the person next to him, then shifts to look at the people at the far end of the table who erupted in laughter, his green eyes opening wide in surprise. Between his bursts of movement, I catch a glimpse of his hands and his smile; the hands of a small child, the smile of a cherub. But when I look closely at his frame, I notice his hands are large for a boy his size, with long, slender fingers, exactly like his grandfather’s and uncle’s hands. He reaches to rub at his ear, brushing away the bronze-red hair that tickled it. He has a slim neck, with the spot under his ear that I can’t help nuzzling whenever he allows me to restrain him for the briefest moment. He has the shoulders, too. They aren’t as big or as broad, of course. On a child, they look as fragile as the whisper-thin bones of a hummingbird. But potential inhabits his shoulders. I try to imagine the man he will become, but it’s too soon, and the picture eludes me. I pray he won’t encounter too much pain, but I know he will bear his share. I hope when he meets challenges, he learns to absorb what makes him grow and learn, and manages to deflect what can damage his soul. His frame will grow, his shoulders will carry burdens, and his hands will bear scars. Just like his grandfather and uncle.
I finish the settings, making small adjustments, fidgeting until it’s just right. The aroma of rich food–turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie–fills the air. I admonish my son to stop playing with the napkins I just folded and scoop him up as he giggles. I bury my face in that precious spot on his neck, inhale his little boy scent, and endure the painful swell of love he brings to my heart.
The others arrive, and I hug my grandfather and my brother. As they each embrace me, their arms close around me, and my cheek nestles against their shoulders. They comfort me and calm my nerves.
To read more letters, click on The Path!