American Thanksgiving - Tour 24
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
I wonder what's in store for my River & Wine Extreme on American Thanksgiving, 2018.
I walk into De La Terre Bakery in Jordan Village and there they sit, my guests for the day: one white and one black, and we hug without knowing each other or why.
“Shouldn't you be home for Thanksgiving?” I say.
“Nope,” she says. “Black folk don’t have anything to be thankful for in America – historically, that is.”
The white one is shaking her head. “All the gluttony,” she says. “All those fake conversations with family you see once a year. All the Black Friday bullshit. We're not your typical Americans."
She's serious but funny. A server brings croissants and they dig in.
“I'm not pissed off," says the white one with a mouthful. "I’m just from Philly.”
We're off to a good start, both serious and hilarious.
They have no idea what’s in store but some nature, some wine and some guy whose trunk on his 2000 Ford Focus fights him every time. And it does today too, refusing to open as the ladies look on.
It's 22 Fahrenheit but I'm guessing these types wish it were colder. No amount of layers seem to cover up these characters.
The white one as real as it gets, so too the black one with a sweetness that beams from that smile. Always a smile on the black woman's face.
By various social work roles in Oakland, Detroit, New Orleans and Portland I’d come to feel the love beyond their iron front doors. Always love in the black woman’s home, photographs in the kitchen of all their children and theirs. No, ain't no love warmer than that of the African-blooded woman in white-blooded America.
And it's no wonder why.
Consider the depth of mercy in her heart. Consider her dignity pressing down on the wick of indignation strung along four hundred years of white dominance, forced displacement, partitioned families, imposed inferiority, burning houses, midnight screams, daily discrimination, hallowed out schools, religions not their own, judgment of each other for making it or not and scratching and clawing for a black and white identity in the unforgiving chicken pen of trade that feeds and creates the poor and poor self-image.
Consider the black woman’s role in all that, in forging families through floods of prejudice and condescension, drugs and warfare, potholes and loose cops, and no city counselor ever knowing their roads.
Consider the centuries of abuse of the black mind, emotions and personhood. Consider the sea-to-sea mindfuck and ghettos of psychosis suffered by their people day after day after day.
Consider the black experience in black America and the strength required of its mothers banging their heads against the ignorant majority and their "leaders".
Somehow the black woman has held it together all these centuries with a capacity to withstand the damage and keep families afloat in the face of pressures few whites understand. Like Harriet Tubman a hundred and fifty years before thousands of black women have fought to lead their children out of the depths into a world they pray is on the other side.
That volume of love I’d never known till I entered those black American homes, homes it was hard to leave because love like that is hard to leave. And here it is before me again, forgiving history and massaging my thoughts.
“From a place called Thousandsticks,” she says. “Rural Kentucky.”
I still can't tell if the white one is happy.
The black one however has nothing to hide.
The white one has none of that political correctness nor need to be liked.
The black one none of that false politeness nor need to be anything.
When working for Parks & Recreation in Portland I sensed black staffers believed me racist for using the word "black" while a few years later emerged Black Lives Matter.
Racism it ain't. Realism, it is. And together they are America, Realism at its most complex.
How these two different personalities became friends is one thing. How they remain friends is quite another. But that's just what makes America, the real America that doesn't make the news: how different people can fill each others' needs. This, like all friendships, is not driven by choice alone but a slurry of unknown needs on each side. There are reasons the ladies solicited each other's company, reasons they make each other think and laugh, and reasons they decided to pair up and head north to celebrate American Thanksgiving in Canada.
She the village hick and she the Jersey suburbanite have employed wholly different rationale to escape wholly different discomforts. While the white woman avoids the superficial, the material, the excess, the black woman avoids the narrative, the hype, how she's told to be, i.e. thankful. Both have had enough, the white one of pretenses and traditions, the black one of being told what to do. Their mission today however is the same: to stand clear of the unreal.
And here they stand in the face of nothing more real than the river at Her wildest and least restrained. Like the icicles hanging from the cliff, parts of us are shaped by the external yet thawed and frozen a hundred times over, forever transforming yet always a drop of water at heart.
Sometimes we bond with others, other times we flow ensemble to our natural destination and sometimes we drip all alone wondering when we're going evaporate into something else.
The white one plays but not to play up. The black one don't play because true happiness don't come to you. It comes out of you. And together they stand as One-under-no-agreed-upon-God, indivisible, of liberty and justice for all - arm in arm without arms.
Today everyone else is indoors insulated from cold and life. What locals say about Balls Falls is "been there, done that" yet do the same job in the same place with the same people. Been in that cubicle, done that a thousand times but ne'er the same Beauty twice - that's the mentality of people who wonder why they're longing.
Gonna be here and do this a lot more times, I pray, as I do today with two strangers in a strange land.
I talk to them of this strange land and its relationship to theirs. I tell them that Harriet Tubman dropped off many a runaway slave in these parts. And, much like these ladies today, Harriet defied the norms of the majority, the values of masters, the roles of blacks and women and the laws of slave-holding states she re-entered countless times to rescue her people.
If only Harriet's day-to-day were fully depicted: under dark, through rain and snow, over thousands of miles of hills and rivers, Harriet defied the educated and esteemed, confronted the national conscience, ignored warnings, eluded bounty hunters, stared down death, mocked the populace, provoked the rage of whites, resisted inferior conditions and dragged her people out of hell to the same freedom these Americans are tasting today - and maybe for some of the same reasons: to escape the enslavement of dubious beliefs, traditions and pressures.
We step back into the car and return to one of the many jokes shared throughout the day, i.e. that I would teach them nothing. . . except how to enjoy life which we do at four wineries over seven hours including Flat Rock Cellars.
And there we end the day: a Canadian and two Americans united in spirit but separated by the nationalisms we've each absorbed and manifested in different ways.
She came out of involuntary ethnocentricity into her own.
She came out of involuntary animosity into her own.
And I came out to meet them where they're at.
We hug each other again, now knowing each other or why
And it's a Happy Thanksgiving after all.