When other people come on our grounds, we are hesitant. My parents friends from San Francisco, Indiana, and Montana are like heroic travelers - bringing gifts, strange phrases and accents, laughter, and warmth toward my parents that make me see a mother and a father differently. Just as the rains come in, Thanksgiving day brings in each world traveler and connects us somehow, spilling into our regular lives and offering a newness that is almost mystical. Each year, our company changes. Aunt Wanda and her friend Dale would come bearing pink marsh mellow jello - which is somehow fitting. We secretly love the pink mush, and even after Aunt Wanda is gone we taste it on our tongues on those dark nights when the record plays like a ghost and the wine is a thin rim in the glass. I remember hearing my mother say Dale's name on the telephone, a quiet and knowing sound that only happens once a year on Wanda's birthday.
But on this particular Thanksgiving day, I do not recall the fluffy pink, the green bean casserole or the smell of ham. I remember his eyes, like the rim of a watermelon, and the gentle, sad way he entered our home. Jimmy Joe, my father's brother, surprises me on Thanksgiving day, because even though there are undoubtedly pictures of him holding me as an infant, I am quite sure we have never really met.
There is something about meeting strangers who used to know you, something about the familiar way they say your name or stare into the eyes of your dog, as if to say 'I've seen it all, too.' Words mumbling and gurgling from a deep and unknown well - frivolous and flying because we're in between small talk and something more. Jimmy Joe spends some time walking in the wet, dark cave of our woods, past the skinny flags and clearing kingdom where we never dared to go. And when he comes back, uneasy and quiet, he is carrying deer antlers found in our abysmal wooded territory. The antlers, like bony fingers, are reaching upward into a crown, twisted and straining. Years later, I will learn that bucks use their antlers to fight in the fall season, and lose them for winter. He stands with a strange peace offering in our living room, and I think I am the only one who understands.
Later he will tell me stories in few words, and teach me how to be an artist. "You see how the light falls on the refrigerator?" He says. "If you can see that, you are an artist." He is shy like me, but not nervous. And in that moment, even before the day becomes a memory, I am nostalgic at the table.