Here we are, charging into December. The way the calendar fell, it robbed us of a week this year on the way to Thanksgiving and we got to enjoy our turkey early. That suits me just fine, because early and often are my two favorite times to have a turkey dinner. Or a turkey panini. Or turkey and noodles. Or turkey and … turkey. I was so pleased to accept an invitation to my buddy’s home on Thanksgiving for this, the most significant of shared meals.
Thanksgiving has always been a sentimental favorite with me. Even as a young kiddo I appreciated so much about my ordinary prairie life: growing up with a solid sense of security in a small community; my elementary education at St. Anthony’s; the neighborhoods where I lived and the kids from those same neighborhoods; hanging down at the river at the sand rocks with friends; never knowing hunger (hell, we didn’t even know we were poor!); the opportunity to perform hard work and get paid fairly; being the oldest of four kids at home… where I could be bossy, or so I’ve heard. All that, and a huge, extended family that loved me. Who wouldn’t be thankful?
About that family – I knew I was fortunate to have them. Such varied personalities, perspectives, and people were instrumental in my young life. One auntie who was prominently involved with the Chicago Performing Arts Scene for decades. Another auntie was a chemist running her own department at a time (generally speaking) when women didn’t hold such positions – and she was also my ace Lamaze partner!
Another of my aunties was a military wife, a mom with a mile-wide generous streak, and gifted photographer (among the other 127 hats she wore.) Two more aunties (more Higgins work ethic!) who were so valuable to the companies they worked for retired well, with much respect and love from those who had worked with AND FOR them. An uncle I adored who gifted me with an early education in music, and who also helped me figure some things out when I was a teenager and troubled and running. Talk about hitting the family jackpot. You bet I’m thankful.
But … what if things had gone another way? I could have stayed in California, grown up and never known the love that my Illinois family had to share. What a sad turn of events that would have been. It could have been a different story, but somehow I managed to end up in Streator, raised a Higgins. I’ve thanked the universe out loud over this motherlode of positive regard.
I was not born here, I’m not a Streator "native" in the strictest sense. But I am "from" here. I grew up and spent the first 24 years of my life here before going out on some great adventures of my own. I’m thankful for what happened a long, long time ago. In a day and age when people didn’t do much of this thing and certainly didn’t TALK about such matters, my dad did something extraordinary. Well, actually both my parents did.
My mom, a single mother being extraordinary, was raising me on her own in 1961. My uncle John Kelley was my dad’s superior in the USMC. Irishmen being unabashed romantics, he dragged my dad home to meet his wife’s sister. And me. My dad, a young Marine being extraordinary, married my mom and adopted me. When his enlistment ended we drove across the country in a giant old Chevy to start our life on the prairie. I have tiny fractions of memories from that time. But the first thing I do fully remember is a solid feeling of acceptance and love.
If that’s not something to feel thankful for, I don’t know what is.
SHANNON HIGGINS CONNOR is a mom, a voracious reader, a jewelry maker, a bipolar wonder, a dog mom/chauffeur, a tequila enthusiast, and (kind of) a writer who currently lives with her Weimaraner, Meeshka in Streator ... but is always scanning the horizon for the next move. She is a believer in both climate change and "Leave things better than you found them." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org