After we crawled three miles in 40 minutes to get on to the Tappan Zee Bridge, I was thrilled when the traffic opened up and our Sienna zipped down the highway, passing the Welcome to New Jersey sign. We had about eight miles left in our Thanksgiving trek, and while it wasn't quite the 'over the river and through the woods' journey I've had in other years (note to self: must write the first-Thanksgiving-in-the-Peace-Corps tale at some point) to get to celebrate the holiday with family, buying all the food supplies and packing up the three boys still tuckered us out enough to make us quite anxious to reach my sister's home. Add to the mix one three-year-old fellow who has been wearing underwear for just nine days, and you can just hear my sigh of relief as P exited the highway.
Except not this exit. With growing awareness as he made the first left and then the right, I sucked in air sharply as I realized the route we were heading to K's. "Why are you going this way?" I suddenly barked. There are exits just a few miles down the highway we could have taken, but somehow the evil navigation system led us to this one. It took a moment for P to register just why my voice suddenly became loud and tense, and he reached over and grabbed my knee. I sank down into my seat and froze. Unaware of their mom's growing panic, the boys happily sang along to the CD, "The shot heard round the world was the start of the Revolution," a flashback of the Saturday mornings of childhood spent watching SchoolHouse Rocks.
As our van reached the light to make the next left, I flipped my hood up over my head and dropped my gaze, staring at the silver sewn letters of my hoodie, the zipper half zipped, my sons' names engraved on the thin tags I wear around my neck-- anything to avoid seeing the street we were now traveling on. My stomach gurgled and I suddenly felt nausea rising up to my throat.
341 days ago, my dad was killed on this street. I have not been near it since I last visited him, just ten days before he died. I sort of vowed that I would never drive on it again. Some folks need to revisit the place of their loved-one's death, mark the scene with a wreath of flowers, a plush toy or a handmade wooden cross perhaps. I have never felt such a need. I have concentrated on scenes in my head, remembering times that he was alive and vibrant--- blowing zerberts on my sons' pale bellies, shouting too loud at my nephew's football games, hammering the bottom of a bottle of ketchup to drench his food with his most-beloved condiment. I don't let my mind go to the place where I might imagine his last moments, the impact of the car, the wet pavement of that dusky December evening.
And tomorrow, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with four of my siblings. It will be our first Thanksgiving since we became orphans. We'll make my mother's stuffing because no matter how fancy that smoked oyster or andouille sausage dressing recipes you have-- white bread, lots of butter, onions, and a generous amount of Bell's Poultry Seasoning tastes like home to us. And when we sit at the table, I'll be sure to look for the pale green glass dish full of Gherkins pickles because for my dad, the Thanksgiving meal was just not complete without those sweet pickles served in his own mother's special pickle dish.