I don’t know exactly when it was that I first realized that the night before Thanksgiving is some sort of national high-school-reunion night. Not the kind with the punchbowl and the banners in the school gym and the awkward pictures, but the kind where you meet up at the dive bar with your old pals and enjoy having a few pops while you brace to deal with your family. It was the exact feeling I got from my one or two trips to the old Ugly’s in Mountain View.
And it didn’t really work out for me that well. I still knew some people from high school, but the ones I’d kept in touch with were all out of town regularly, and even if they weren’t, circumstances have conspired to put me forty miles from downtown when I’m in the old country – and most of the good stuff is on the far side of downtown. Not that I couldn’t use a few stiff drinks to deal with my family at the holidays, but it just wasn’t on the cards. And so I spent Thanksgiving 2007 in London, and 2008 in a state of steady tension until I could get back to Silly Con Valley and the green hills of December. I stayed here for Thanksgiving in ’09, but thanks to a crap-ton of football and my own laying down the law, Christmas in the old patch was broadly tolerable (and I have the efforts of Team Black Swan East to thank for that).
That Christmas is also when I met up with an old high school pal, a year ahead of me, who has been something of a linchpin for the alumni community both in town and in the general 2-hour driving radius. Which means that I was able to go to my 20-year reunion this summer and have an awesome time. Which means that if I were back in the old country, I’d have something to do Wednesday night – or more likely Friday night – for the first time. Which would be great, and also totally necessary, because…well, the drama is out of hand.
In a way, it’s fortunate that I’ve known since August that I won’t be traveling at the holidays this year, and I’m grateful for it, what with the assorted family meltdowns back home and the choice between the nudie cancer machine or the third base grope in the airports, not to mention the assorted trauma that usually goes along with flying during Amateur Week. But I won’t be where I can clink a glass with my fellow sons and daughters of the old mustard blockhouse, and for that I am truly regretful.
Because more than anything else, that’s the thing I’m most grateful for this year that’s different from previous years. I’m thankful for my wife, my house, my car, my job, my iPhone 4, and for Vanderbilt Commodore basketball, of course – but for the first time in longer than I care to remember, I have a past. Not some black hole with no pictures and no friends to remind me, not a few dusty artifacts taking up closet space as tangible proof that something happened for me once, but actual human beings whose eyes bugged and jaws dropped as they shrieked my name, who knew the old stories and told them without so much as a prompt, who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only were the old days as crazy as I make them sound, I may have undersold it in the retelling.
In 2010, I finally became a Tree again. And for that, I am truly, deeply thankful.