In our small Studio City living room, we have two Thanksgiving tables set up – sort of side-by-side like a separated “T”. It is crowded. It is fun. It is loud. You have to suck in your stomach to squeeze around a corner to get to the kitchen for more sweet potatoes. And it is full of people that have no relatives nearby. It is full of people who love us. It is full of our “friend family”.
East meets west… that’s me. I am from the Bronx, my husband is from Iowa and we have lived in LA for 24 years. When my husband and I first came here, we knew 3 people and, even though my husband is the middle of seven children, we had no relatives within a 1500 mile radius.
The first years when the kids were little were challenging.
I had always pictured a life like my mom’s with my grandmother and grandfather a stone’s throw away. Sunday family dinners, easy access to a loving babysitter… but instead we piece-mealed an untraditional life together. The kids came to lots of places with us. We did a lot of exploring together. When my husband was working and the kids were napping, I think I was lonely even though I was sort of used to an “alone” feeling.
I am an only child. In my Bronx neighborhood there were big families… 3, 4, 5, even 6 kids… I sometimes felt “less than” because I was always a tagalong to the big brood. I wanted a bigger family, I wanted a sibling. My father died when I was 22 and I then rolled around in the “why me?” – I was pretty much the first person I knew who had experienced a parental death. I allowed myself to get stuck in a place of lack… a lonely place of “I need more” to fit in, or be the same, or feel OK… I held onto my separateness like it was badge, like it defined me, like it was special or made me special.
Then it changed.
Instead of hanging on to old thoughts, I let go and I really saw my life.
Besides the gift of my family of four, my husband’s large family (we total something like 50 people with all the spouses and kids and, now, grand babies) are very loving and inclusive and hugged me right in and accepted me into their sea of connections. They are all so unique, from all across the country, with different views on a lot of things, and, yet, with all that, I know if I am ever in Texas or North Carolina or really anywhere that any one of them call home, I will find an open door, a place to sleep, a warm heart. And… this is big…
I was always lucky enough to have a friend.
Sometimes one or two close ones, sometimes a whole gaggle… People who choose me and who I choose to laugh with and share with and deal with… to love. It’s that wonderful, mysterious process where, without even realizing it, the roots begin to grow and people keep showing up and you see the same smiles and you look forward to helping and, wow… you have a group to call your own.
I realize now that family is what I make it… It can be a blood thing or friend thing or a pet thing. It can be large or small. It can be by phone or over a cup of tea or in a group online. Love is unlimited and ever-present, I just need to see it and nurture it.
Now, at Thanksgiving, as I squeeze past my friends for another piece of pie, I realize that I am surrounded by my large self-made family and perhaps I always have been and…
I am so grateful.
What makes your Thanksgiving gathering special to you?
Alison Martin -- wife, mom, Emmy-award winning actress, writer, chocoholic. Bronx Italian, daughter of Pultizer Prize winning reporters, who also identifies as L.A. Irish. Shout outs: Dan, Emilia, Brady, pooches - LuLu & Ted, friends, Mother Earth, serendipity, peace, VIPHS, Boldfaced Secret, living life like your socks feel real good.
College student, GRACE HOLTZCLAW, describes what it’s like to come home for the holidays after a college semester.
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