As you will remember if you read, “The Remodeling Project,” my husband and I have taken on remodeling a sort of sport or long-term adventure. As of this last Thanksgiving we were four years into the project with no completion date in sight. One cannot set dates in years for which no calendars have been printed anyway. Just two years into the project we hired the Home Depot folks to come out and redo our kitchen. Cabinets were rearranged to make a larger and better work space and drawers were installed that actually slid in and out of their slots unhindered with no struggle or frustration on my part. The only difficulty created by these changes was the loss of our dining area. After two years of having no dining room table, all civility seemed to have disintegrated in our home as each family member, meal after meal, took his or her dinner plate to whatever convenient place could be found in which to consume food. Because of this, and to my dismay, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving my husband announced that we would not be home to enjoy our usual traditions. We would not have turkey, we would not have stuffing, and we would not have pie. Such a thing had never happened to me before. The rules simply did not allow for such a thing. Not having a table at which to sit is a mere inconvenience, but not being home on Thanksgiving was troubling. We would instead, I was told, spend the holiday at an amusement park. I admit that at first my resistance to this idea was high, but through willed resignation to my fate I came to accept it without whining, complaining, or taking up arms. My initial horror gave way to the anticipation of fun, and, I thought, we would certainly make more memories this way. Maybe we could break my beloved rule of being home on Thanksgiving just this once.
Leaving early in the morning and assuming that something would be open on Thanksgiving (this is America after all), we planned a breakfast stop a mere forty minutes into our jaunt. Arriving at McDonald’s, I got out of the car to visit the mini-mart next door while my husband and children got into line in the drive-thru. Exiting the store upon the completion of my errand I walked over to the drive-thru’s exit where cars departed one at a time after what seemed like a long wait per vehicle. I imagined disgruntled employees inside shuffling their feet, in no hurry to satisfy hungry customers, and wishing they didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving. After waiting some time for my family round the corner, I began to wonder what had happened to them when they finally came into sight. Passing the pick-up window my husband was in a fit of laughter as I joined him in the car. I could see that he had no food, and though math has never been my strong suit, I can still add two and two; and so, concluding that the restaurant must be closed, I inquired into is laughter. I havenever thought hunger to be funny, especially my own since it makes me grouchy, but he’s the one with the sense of humor so I accept his judgment on these matters and try to see thing his way. The events at the drive-thruthat tickled his funny bone so much we later thought to be a sad commentary on American society, but because we proved to be just as warped as the other people waiting in line, we enjoyed the comedy and continued to laugh about it throughout the day. As each car pulled up to the order-kiosk-thing, it parked there for an unusually long amount of time until its driver came to the realization that nobody was home, the lights weren’t even on, the restaurant was closed. Each car then drove away, rounded the corner and continued their search for breakfast elsewhere while the next car in line, with its unsuspecting driver, parked in front of the order-kiosk-thing. This drill repeated, car after car, and nobody bothered to warn the next person in line that the restaurant was closed. It was as though each person, after getting skunked thought, “If I got mine, why shouldn’t Schwartz get his?” And so, like the others, we too drove away in a continued search for breakfast. Later in the morning, I am happy to say, we were able to find an open McDonald’s. America had not let us down.
Previously I had been told that the best day to visit an amusement park is Thanksgiving because hardly anybody is there. Being something of a traditionalist I was not interested in this information as I intended to never put it to the test to find if it was true or not. I now have enough experience to tell you that it is only half true. Relative to summertime, hardly anybody visits an amusement park on Thanksgiving; however, relative to Thanksgiving, hardly anybody is in the park on a Monday in January, or even another weekday in March. I’ve tried both those days and they are far better days to visit an amusement park than Thanksgiving if you are interested on walking onto rides all day long without annoying, patience-testing lines to interfere with your fun. The downside to spending Thanksgiving at an amusement park, however, is a divided family. Some of my family likes thrill rides, and the others don’t; so while my husband took my teenage son on all the big roller coasters I took the two younger kids on the older, less heart-pounding rides which was a lot of fun even though I like roller coasters even more than my husband does. On our third ride aboard the Grinder Gearworks that spins people round and around plastering them to a wall at a 45-degree angle something interesting finally happened. America may not have failed me earlier in the day but America was about to fail a Japanese tourist who might later have wished he had gone to Disneyland instead. Three teenage foreigners speaking what I assumed to be Japanese were behind us in line as we waited for our turn to get nauseous. Most rides lock seated passengers into a compartment with a series of protections such as a seatbelt and harness that goes over the shoulders that keeps a person’s head from rattling around too much but really just gives one a headache. The Grinder Gearworks is different in that riders stand in a slot of a large round roofless room with a token safety strap hooked across their waist. The strap doesn’t even touch most people and it doesn’t need to because the force of the spinning is enough to keep the machine’s victims pinned to the wall. It may even push brains to the backs of skulls but I’m not sure of this because everything was so fuzzy when I stepped of the ride. As I mentioned, people are supposed to stand. I didn’t realize this before, but standing is a rule the ride operators take seriously and if you don’t stand you get kicked, booted, or otherwise thrown off the ride. Another thing I didn’t realize is that not all foreigners speak better English than we do. As the ride began to pick up speed, one of the Japanese kids sat down, probably thinking the ride would be more fun that way, and as he did so, a loud voice came over a speaker saying that if he did not stand up the ride would stop and he would have to get off. Oblivious to the instructions given, the youth continued to sit while the voice repeated the warning. The riders opposite him, being of better character than the people in the McDonald’s drive through, shouted to him to stand up and made arm signals that could be understood in any language. Staring at them with a perplexed expression the boy continued to sit, and slowly, the ride came to a stop. Apparently thinking that the ride was over, he and his friends proceeded to leave while looking around themselves with looks of bewilderment as the other passengers remained where they were. Once the offenders had exited, the ride continued. The incident was a small one that left me feeling bad for the bewildered boy who clearly had no idea what was happening around him or why he and his friends, of all the riders, had to get off. He probably has no idea, even to this day, what happened back there. It reminded me though that everything has rules, even things requiring no training or skill; and rules have to be obeyed if we are truly to enjoy anything.
My beloved rule, as explained earlier, was that we must always be home on Thanksgiving. I could imagine nothing else and wanted nothing else. I realize now, looking back, that there is a higher rule to a day set aside for thanks than staying home and working harder than any other day of the year save Christmas. The rule happens to be thankfulness. And so, after hours of play and spending $75 on a lunch that included hamburgers, fries, and soda , a record cost for Thanksgiving dinner, we sat down to a non-traditional feast in an amusement park. I never would have chosen it myself but the rules turned out to be different than I thought they were. Even though we were not at home enjoying turkey, stuffing, and pie, we were feasting and we were thankful. As I imagined, we did make some good memories that day, and though it wasn’t our usual warm and cozy Thanksgiving experience, it was truly enjoyable and one of the many treasures we’ve collected along life’s way. For this I am Thankful.