We spend most of our Thanksgivings in Connecticut with my mom and Matt’s mom. The holidays are my favorite time of year, but they can be hard for our family too. Not sure that I have ever mentioned this on the blog before, but Matt and I both lost our fathers at a pretty young age. I was twenty two when my dad (actually my step dad but he raised me and he’s who I call Dad) passed away from a massive heart attack related to lung cancer. My dad was in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war, and was exposed to agent orange. He was incredibly patriotic and proud of his service in Vietnam (and our family too), but he had health problems related to that service that he dealt with for the rest of his life. Dad was also a very heavy smoker and a big guy. He loved to eat. Oh my did he love to eat. And I can’t really say that he loved to smoke but he did smoke a lot so it eventually caught up with him. When I was twenty two, during Father’s Day weekend, he and Mom sat me down to tell me the bad news. I was devastated. At the time, I was in a long distance relationship with a guy who lived 7 hours away from home. To be closer to him for the summer, I got a job working at camp for disabled children and young adults. My parents assured me that Dad would go through treatment, and it wasn’t going to be easy but that I should return back to Virginia to continue working. So I did. And two weeks later I received a call from my mom that Dad had passed away during the night. I can’t even put words to the shock I felt in the moments after that phone call. In the coming days, weeks, months and years that followed, I watched my world turn upside down. Everything changed. It was hard on the entire family. For me, I returned home, went through the funeral and all the slow, miserable events that accompany death. I remember feeling the worst for my mother, who having had raised my sister and me as a single mother until I was 7, had finally found love with my step dad.
In the fall I started my last year of college and plodded through one of the most depressing times in my life. Luckily, my boyfriend, now my husband, helped me get through it. Lots of phone calls. Lots of driving back and forth up and down I95 for visits. Meanwhile, his dad was sick and had been sick for a long time. We were never sure when his dad was going to pass as he’d been dealing with complications related to paralysis for nearly forty years. I remember that after each visit with Matt’s dad, we worried that that visit would be the last time we’d get to see him. And even though watching Matt’s dad deal with dying and grieving the loss of my own dad was hard on us, Matt and I got married, put me through graduate school and quitting my job, and then endured all my graduate school odd jobs ( my work hours were weird since by day I worked as a receptionist for an accounting firm and by night as an adjunct English professor). It was kind of a crazy time. But, then we had Annabelle, which was one of the best things that either of us have ever managed to do. She arrived and brought so much happiness with her (along with sleepless nights and a kind of “hard” that I think only other parents could ever understand). I was so excited to be a mom, and I remember how Matt, hesitant about the whole idea of having a baby, just turned into a big mushball when he finally held her in his arms. She’s had her dad sufficiently wrapped around her finger since the day she was born. And her grandparents too.
Dad (Matt’s Dad) made it about a year after Annabelle was born and then passed away right after Thanksgiving, just a few weeks before Annabelle’s first birthday. Actually, yesterday was the anniversary of his death. This year he’s been gone six years. It still doesn’t feel like he’s been gone that long. And I know that Matt and I and the rest of the family still wish he were here with us. He had a great way of looking at things. His wisdom, his humor, and his love for his family touched so many people.
At the holidays, as you’d expect, Matt and I miss our dads. Both of our dads happened to be awesome cooks (and they both loved to eat, which was pretty apparent since they both had good bellies on them). Our dads also had big presence. They both had that special twinkle to their eyes. They both were stern but teddy bears underneath. And they both loved being dads. Matt and I are so lucky we had them.
And over the years, our families have adapted. Fortunately, our moms travel well together and they’ve come to love each other, so we get both sides our families to together at Thanksgiving. I have to say that we’ve been so lucky that our moms clicked the way that they do because it helps us to see them more. They’re so funny together. They pile up their luggage and bags and stuff to give to their grandkids and drive 8 hours down from Connecticut to stay for two or three days. On the rides down, they talk and talk and smoke (though my mom is now smoke free for two years! I’m so proud of her). And when they arrive, the kids keep them playing nonstop and pretty much exhaust them. And we are so grateful to them for those visits. The kids talk about seeing their grandmothers for weeks to come after they leave and they always ask when the next visit will be.
But at Thanksgiving, it’s our turn to drive. So we load up our bags, crate the cat, buckle in the dog and the kids, and make our way through six states til we reach our childhood homes.
It actually wasn’t that bad of a drive. The cat and dog got along and the kids only squabbled now and again while watching movies on the portable DVD player in the backseat. And Matt and I listened to Hunger Games on audiobook. Which was pretty awesome. The time in the car almost flew by.
During the visit, we try to split up time so each mom gets to spend time one on one with the grandkids. On Day 1, we headed up to North Branford to see Matt’s family. Matt and I usually busy ourselves working on some project or another, though on this last trip, we just ran to the grocery store and stopped at the Y to exercise since we knew that the coming days would be filled with lots of eating.
Meanwhile, Annabelle and Levi had a ball playing with their cousin Charlie and doing rainbow looming with their Grandma.
And oh my goodness. Grandma can rainbow loom. She knows all the complicated patterns and showed Annabelle how to do them. I just sort of sat back, took it all in, and did what I can do: take photos.
Phinneus got lots of attention too. It was his first visit to Connecticut so he got to meet the cousins and uncles and Papa Joe. He also loved running around and digging around Grandma’s backyard.
At night we stayed at my mom’s house in Derby, which is just 40 minutes away from Matt’s mom’s house. And that evening, I got a little camera happy with photographing Phinn and Toby. I have to admit that they do seem a little confused when they see me scooting around the floor on my belly snapping photos of them but they indulge me. Toby even sat and let me click snap away.
Not sure what I did here, but somehow I made my other half smile. Hmmm . . .
And sorry to bore you, but I had to share a photo of Phinn being bad. He keeps eating the kids’ toys. And we keep trying to distract him, dissuade him, but dogs will be dogs. And toys will get eaten.
Of course, he gets away with it all because he’s just a sweety. Oh my goodness, just looking at these photos, I get all sappy. I love you Phinn.
Meanwhile Toby got in on the picture action. He is more eager for people attention lately. I am pretty sure it has something to do with letting Phinn know that he’s higher up in the pecking order but whatever the reason, Toby’s been a lot more affectionate and eager for attention lately.
I mean, he doesn’t even look that pissed off in this picture, right? Just mildly annoyed.
Oh, and I dyed my hair. Err, well, a salon dyed my hair. It is brownish but not brown. Technically it’s ombre. Matt likes it. I’m sort of like, oh my goodness, my hair! It’s so different. And it will take time but I think I will come around and fully like it. As much as I liked my fake blond hair.
Back to Toby. If you’re getting tired of all the pet shots, you might want to scroll down a bit.
And then there was the big day. Turkey Day. Matt’s brother Charlie and his son little Charlie carved the turkey. And I was a very bad vegetarian because I ate the turkey. And it was so good. Very grateful for that turkey.
Papa Joe did the cooking (though my mom did prep the turkey, so he’s crediting her for that). A bit about Papa Joe: Papa Joe is my mom’s boyfriend, soon-to-be fiancé. They’ve been together for the last eight years. And between the two of them, they have six children. And three of us live out of state. Which means that their weekends get filled with visits to grandchildren and long carrides. We love you Nana and Papa Joe. So happy you two do all you do to keep our families together. And I for one am happy to have Papa Joe’s kids and grandkids as family. They are some good people.
Oh, and one more thing. Papa Joe likes butter. Lots of butter. And he likes to cook with lots of butter. Which means that everything tastes really good but that in the week after Thanksgiving I step on the scale and shriek because I gained five pounds. Doh!
Again, I have no idea what Matt was doing here but he’s all like, “I’m saying something and why the hell are you taking my picture right now?” To which I say, “Because you’re handsome and I’ll take your picture if I want to.” So there.
Here’s another photo of me with my darker locks. Photo courtesy of Matt and my amazing ability to set up a camera. Okay, let me just give Matt the photo credit. He’s actually a pretty good photographer.
Levi was telling a story when I took this photo. I was all like, “Hey, it’s time to eat.” And he, like his mom and his granddad, was all like, “Wait a second. I’m telling a story.”
My mom had the table all decked out. Of course, we ate off paper plates because clean up is no good when you’ve finished eating and you’re ready for a turkey coma.
After we feasted, everyone pitched in and we got the kitchen cleaned up. Then Papa Joe’s kids and grandkids stopped over for dessert. Which was a sweet choice of pies from McConney’s Farm in Derby. Best pies ever. And also happens to be where I got my first job. That’s right. I worked for the world’s best pie makers. As the teenager who swept the floors and cleaned the kitchen. I remember that job with fondness because my best friend Danielle and I would walk the mile up the road to the farm’s cider store and sweep away til the day’s pie making was no longer a visible mess. And we got to eat free pie and cookies as part of our pay. Not a bad first job. Not at all.
At the end of the day, we were all pretty tuckered out. Toby and Phinn were so tired that they even put their differences aside and took a nap together. Of course, Toby napped with one eye open. He still isn’t so sure about our family’s new pup, but I’m hoping he comes around.
The rest of the visit was filled with more visiting and shopping. I took time out on Black Friday to photograph Matt’s longtime best friend and his wife and daughter. And I brought them up to one of the most beautiful places on earth (in my humble opinion) which is the land that still remains of McConney’s farm. If you’d like to see a sneak peak from their session, you can click here.
Hmmm . . . what else? Well, we made plans for the next visit, which should be at our house for Annabelle’s 7th birthday. She’s hosting a spa for just a couple of friends. Which really means that I will be spending a Sunday afternoon giving 7 little 7 year olds mani/pedis, facials, and kid friendly herbal tea. I can already feel the relaxation (hear the sarcasm?).
We’ll be celebrating Christmas at home this year in Virginia, which will be the first time since Levi was born. The kids are excited. I’m relieved. And I’m praying that we can convince our moms to visit at the New Year. Of course, those long drives to Connecticut aren’t really all that bad . . .
At the end of the day, all that matters is that we are there for each other. This Thanksgiving I remembered how lucky I am to have my family, craziness and all. There is a lot of love among us. And I don’t take that lightly.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and a happy holiday season too!
Oh, and Happy Chanukah!
Oh, and here’s a photo for Throwback Thursday. This is Matt’s dad meeting Annabelle for the first time.
And this is a photo of my dad from his time in Vietnam.