It’s Thanksgiving, the quintessential holiday for American families.
It’s a holiday where each family tends to develop its own rich trove of traditions. Maybe it’s a family football game before or after the feast. Maybe it’s a particular food, like Aunt Gertrude’s oyster stuffing or cranberry sauce still maintaining the shape of the can from which it came, sliced to produce red hockey pucks. Maybe it’s the rickety, riotous “kid’s table” where everyone under the age of 30 has to sit because the real dining room table can’t accommodate the whole clan.
But one of the biggest and most closely held traditions has to do with time — as in, when do you sit down for your meal? Newly married couples learn to their astonishment that not every family eats at the same time. Some people eat at noon, right after the parades end. Some people eat at four, squeezing the meal in between the football games on TV. So the newly married couple might eat two meals, one with each family, until they start to establish their own traditions.
I’ve never heard of anyone waiting until a more standard dinner time — say, 7 p.m. — to eat their turkey. By then, most of us are chowing a cold turkey sandwich, pounding down a second piece of pumpkin pie, and groaning at our gluttony.
Wherever you are, and whenever you eat, Happy Thanksgiving!
I remember reading once about the difficulty that artists have in presenting hands in drawn or painted portraits. Many portraits feature only the head and shoulders of the subject — perhaps because including the hands is so darned difficult — and in full-body portraits the portrayal of the hands is often just a bit . . . off. The fingers are too smooth, or the thumb looks weird, or the hand is put in an unnatural pose. It takes a true master to draw or paint hands that actually look natural.
I think that is because the hands are among the most expressive parts of the human body. You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their hands, and for others the hands are as eloquent as a face or a voice. One of my grandmothers joked often about her “stubby fingers,” but her hands were essential to her interpersonal communications, as she patted cheeks and clutched elbows. Even after she had a stroke and could not speak, she would hold your hand and squeeze.
So I was fascinated by a show at the gallery at 9338 Campau, during our visit to Hamtramck last weekend, that was all about hands. Called The Visibility of Labor by Tsz Yan Ng, it featured plaster casts of the hands of the people who helped to create a single dress at a factory in China — from the pencil-holding designers to the fabric cutters to the sewers to the folders to the hands that ultimately display the finished dress. The hands are so perfectly cast that you can see every wrinkle, vein, knuckle, and ring; it’s easy to tell the hands of the older workers from the hands of the younger. You half expect that the hands will move before your eyes.
The Visibility of Labor has moved on from the 9338 Campau gallery, but keep an eye out for it at an art gallery near you — and if you’re lucky enough to catch it, pause for a moment to think about the art of hands.
St. Florian Roman Catholic Church is about a block away from Russell’s apartment in Hamtramck, Michigan. It is a huge, beautiful church, with a multi-colored spire that stands out in sharp relief against the blue sky that prevailed during our visit.
It’s hard to accurately describe the colossal size of the church, which dominates the neighborhood, is twice the height of the neighboring homes, and can be seen from blocks away. That’s a good thing, because we knew Russell’s place was near the church, and all we had to do to find it was keep heading unerringly toward the spire.
Construction of St. Florian was begun in 1926 and completed in 1928, when Hamtramck was home to thousands of Polish immigrants who came to America to taste freedom, establish a better life for their families, and obtain employment in the booming auto industry. It’s a rich and familiar American story, where immigrants brought their traditions and cuisines to the New World and, once they put down roots, wanted to establish their houses of worship there, too. St. Florian still hosts festivals with a strong ethnic flavor, and even though the neighborhood has changed in the last 90 years you’ll still find some pretty good Polish restaurants, that offer some pretty good Polish beer, located close nearby.
These days, it seems, we often forget that America is truly a land of immigrants. In Hamtramck, St. Florian provides a beautiful, tangible reminder of that fact.
Russell is living these days in Hamtramck, a separately incorporated enclave within the sprawl of Detroit and Wayne County. It’s always been an ethnic community, initially with a huge influx of Poles coming to work in the nearby factories and, more recently, with a large Middle Eastern population.
Hamtramck feels apart from the rest of the Detroit area, too. We walked down its Main Street area yesterday, and it was as if we were on a Hollywood set for a Back To The Future-like ’50s period piece. No strip malls here, just individual buildings with street-level shops. One of the shops, which sold clothing for men and boys, looks like it was transported directly from 1955. Check out the mannequin hair styles!
To complete the time warp feel, when we were sitting in a Hamtramck tavern watching some college football, a friendly man came up, shook our hand, and announced the he had just been elected to city council and wanted to say hello. When was the last time that happened to you?
Yesterday we had our annual furnace check-up, and the result was bad news: the inspector found a crack in the heat exchanger unit, which could cause carbon monoxide to leak into the house. So he “red-tagged” our furnace, which meant that he had advised us of the problem and we could decide whether or not to use the furnace.
That left us with one of the more easy and obvious decisions we’ve had to make lately. After weighing the options for a fraction of a nanosecond, we decided that rather than senselessly flirt with death from carbon monoxide poisoning, we would turn off the furnace — which was just about at the end of its normal life span, anyway — and buy a new one.
In the meantime, we’re enduring life in a cold house. Fortunately, it’s not super-cold yet; today when we woke up it was 34 degrees outside and the indoor temperature, according to our thermostat, had dipped to 58. That’s well below the comfort zone for most Americans, but it’s really not too bad. So long as you bundle up and keep moving during the day, and add lots of blankets at night, you can manage perfectly well. I once spent a weekend on an island on a Canadian lake and slept in an unheated bunkhouse when the overnight temperature got down into the teens, and enjoyed it immensely.
In some ways, living in a cold house has its little advantages. I tend to sleep better in the cold, anyway, and this will give us every incentive to get out of the house and do things this weekend. I wouldn’t want to live footloose and furnace-free long-term, though.