My most memorable Thanksgiving dinner came out of a can. Two cans, actually.
I was 25 years old, living in a Honolulu high-rise, recently divorced from my second husband and feeling sorry for myself. My young son was spending the holiday weekend with my parents on Maui, but I couldn’t take the day off from work, so this was my first Thanksgiving away from family.
After putting Jimmy on the plane Wednesday evening, I called a friend who was also facing Thanksgiving alone, and we met for a drink and some girl talk.
Shelli and I were an unlikely pair; she was a tall, striking blonde, a worldly trust fund baby who’d had an unconventional upbringing on the Mainland and in Europe, while I was just your average local girl. We had two things in common: a newfound disillusionment with the idea of “happy ever after,” and an ex-husband — the same one.
I met Shelli when she married Jimmy’s father, a couple of years after he and I divorced. I’ll never forget the joy and excitement in his voice when, during a weekend at his dad’s, my little boy called to tell me, “Guess what! I’m gonna have TWO mommies!”
Jim and Shelli wed within weeks of meeting each other, and their marriage was as brief as their courtship. When their relationship began to sour, Shelli turned to me for support and advice. I was happy to give her a shoulder to cry on, but held my tongue as best I could. Eventually they agreed to split up and I remained friends with both of them.
So, on Thanksgiving Eve, after several strawberry margaritas, Shelli and I decided to rebel against tradition. We would meet at my apartment after work for an anti-Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey, no yams, no cooking at all.
It was fun, at first, eating canned tuna on hot rice (I know, I said no cooking, but rice doesn’t count!) and creamed corn. We didn’t bother to heat the corn; in fact, we might have eaten it straight from the can, I don’t remember.
We thought we were so cool, spurning custom and convention. Rather than share thoughtful expressions of gratitude, we expounded on the sad state of the world. We gossiped and grumbled about our ex-husbands and men in general.
But as the evening wore on, my bravado faded. When I opened a jar of green olives and Shelli likened the bitterness to our hardened hearts, my inner child started to whimper. I didn’t want to admit it, but I missed the trappings of a traditional Thanksgiving feast with family.
I finally confessed my feelings aloud, and Shelli surprised me by collapsing into sobs. She, too, had a little girl within, who longed for a “normal” life and a storybook ending. We spent the next couple of hours commiserating and eventually concluding that, while misery loves company, it’s a toxic relationship.
After that November evening, our occasional girls’ nights out were fueled by optimism and a determination to enjoy and appreciate life, with all of its ups and downs. We lost touch after each of us entered into our third marriages, some 30 years ago. Wherever she is, I hope it’s a happy place.
Tomorrow morning I’ll call Jimmy and his daughters in Michigan before going out with my mother for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And when I get home, I’ll open a can of creamed corn for dessert and give thanks for all of the folks who’ve touched my life. Ex-husbands included.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.