I was thirteen when my parents went through a horrific divorce in the 70s. Of course that meant my siblings and I went through that divorce too, there were six of us. My Mom took to drinking in grand fashion, to the point where she ultimately ended up in a hospital for years, after too many suicide attempts. Before that though, my Dad left us with her as she deteriorated, while he scoped out the city for a new mate/mother for his kids.
The final Thanksgiving before Mom’s complete breakdown dawned with her, as usual, passed out after a long night at the local dive bar. Thankfully (no pun intended-it being Thanksgiving) she had spared us an overnight guest. Lately, they’d been increasingly, um, rustic.
Mom was only in her mid-30s, she was very pretty, and up to that period had stayed away from alcohol and cigarettes. Indeed, the contrast was startling and severe in its expediency. Within a year she’d become unrecognizable.
But we all soldiered on. There had been enough good holidays, for instance, for us kids to know that something had to be done that day. Things were off-kilter, and it was up to us to righten them.
So at about noon three of us marched on down to the Tradewell (now the QFC on Rainer Ave South and McClellan) with our pockets full of food stamps, and we loaded up two huge shopping carts with the makings of our feast. I remember we were in pretty good spirits, I think we were even doing it for good ol’ Mom. By then she’d been sick for almost a year so the pass-out thing was par for the course.
But to the checkout girl, the sight of three young children (I had brought along my five year old sister and nine year old brother) with a mountain of supplies and a wad of crumpled food stamps, with no adult nearby, well… it raised a few red flags.
A manager was summoned, and we were drilled in that odd faux-kindly way that adults perform while secretly having an associate call Child Protective Services. I could clearly see our Thanksgiving was about to get much weirder.
So I insisted to the manager that our mother was just sick with the flu and she would vouch for us asap. But when I was allowed to phone home, a brother answered and said he still couldn’t rouse Mom from her stupor. As the manager glared down at me while I talked (I was a small 13 year old), I faked responses to my brother agreeing that, sure, she could call the store after she got out of the shower.
The manager interupted and said no, she’d have to come in. I informed my brother of this, to his deep groan, and then was escorted to the store office to wait, along with our hilariously overloaded carts.
Later I’d hear about the tremendous undertaking it was to get Mom in shape to get the eight blocks to the store. She certainly couldn’t drive, so not only did my brother have to make her presentable, he had to get her to walk that far. It’s been over thirty years, but my brother says he still has not gotten over that day.
Anyway, somehow they did it, though we didn’t see them for two hours. By then there were very audible discussions between the store staff about getting the police, welfare, FBI etc involved. When my straggly-haired Mom and frazzled brother finally appeared, it was as if my DNA had just exonerated me from death row.
So they let us go! My Mom got quite a lecture but there was a holiday spirit in the eyes of the manager, who by now obviously felt for us. Our food stamps didn’t nearly cover the haul but he let us take it all. We staggered up the street with the two shopping carts, although it seemed forever to get the half-mile back home. Mom was stumbling, having risen to the emergency occasion, but wilting just as quickly.
By the time we reached our block, we were literally carrying her up the alley. Then, with love, we tossed her back in bed like a sack of potatoes.
The rest of the day went okay, except we ate frozen turkey. We’d neglected to factor in the thawing and simply stuck the bird in the oven as-is. By 8 PM it had made very little headway so we ate it anyway. But the yams and stuffing and mashed potatoes and all the other stuff was pretty good, and we watched White Christmas on TV and gorged on pie and whipped cream.
Periodically we’d check in on Mom, who’d stayed horizontal the balance of the day and night. We got some bites of food into her and she didn’t throw it up, so that was good. At the end of the evening we propped her up on some pillows and my baby sister brushed her hair. Then a couple of us cuddled up to her and she was out for good.
And that was the last Thanksgiving I spent with her.