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November 22, 2005

Giving thanks

Becky has been in Los Angeles for the last week, helping her mom clean house before a remodel. She's been dredging up old memories and odd objects, letters she wrote her brother from college, games they played as children, the old leather suitcase with which her father first arrived from China.

I have been dredging up a few odd objects myself.

Becky and I spent our first Thanksgiving together on the road, driving a small rental car up and over the Sierra Nevada into Mono County. It was also our first visit to the desert. We passed aspens and Jeffrey pines, tufa towers and lava flows, and it was long enough ago - 16 years - that I no longer remember what we talked about on the way over Sonora Pass, or if we talked at all. I do remember the rental car's brakes smoking as we descended the pass's east slope - stupid automatic transmission.

It was cold as we appproached the Walker River along 395.

Thanksgiving night found us in a closed campground on Grant Lake. I fiddled with my new backpacking stove, got the freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini cooked precisely according to the directions on the package, and it took neither of us more than a quick taste to judge it inedible. Ah, well. The morning promised sunlight and omelets down the road. We crawled hungry into my little pup tent and warmed each other, then slept.

The next day we coaxed the rental car down a rutted, washed-out dirt road in the Greenwater Valley, just outside Death Valley National Monument. We found a wide, unvegetated spot amid the creosote and pitched the tent again. There had been a stop in a grocery store in Lone Pine, and that night we didn't go to bed hungry. I awoke at two to brilliant stars. I did not know Becky then as well as I do now: we had only been sleeping together for a few months, and not every night at that. I nudged her. "You should see the stars."

"Don't wake me up."
"No, seriously. Look at the stars. There are so many of them."
"I mean it. Don't wake me up."
"Just a quick look."

Becky, once woken, cannot fall back asleep. For the next four hours she told me so. About once every five minutes. And then came the sun, and a trip up to Dante's View to see Death Valley splayed out before us and a mile below. Then came breakfast, and Badwater, and Baker. We ate homemade turkey soup for dinner in Mojave in a restaurant called Reno's, long since closed and lamented and remembered fondly along with Villa Hermosa in Berkeley and Pring's in San Leandro. But I digress.

For years, despite a dozen sumptuous dinners since, I've privately thought of Thanksgiving 1989 as the best I ever had. Sleeping hungry with Becky is better than sleeping sated without her. Last night I was in a mood to reminisce, and Becky called. "I've been thinking about our first Thanksgiving," I said.

"Oh, my god," she replied. "That was horrible. I told myself over and over again that night 'bring cheese and crackers the next time you camp with Chris.' After that, there was nowhere for our Thanksgivings together to go but up."

She thought for a moment.

"But climbing in the tent with you was nice, as I remember."

I'm adopting a compromise view. 1989 was the best Thanksgiving ever, and they've been getting better ever since.

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 22, 2005 10:58 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini ... took neither of us more than a quick taste to judge it inedible

That wouldn't be Mountain House, would it? I used to call that stuff "Turkey Tetrachloride".

Posted by: Paul Tomblin at November 22, 2005 12:48 PM
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Sweet story.

How old were you in 1989?

Posted by: The Liberal Avenger at November 22, 2005 01:51 PM
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Thank you for the laugh. I cannot express how much I enjoy when you open up like this. Your writing is truly a thing of beauty.

Posted by: Nikki at November 22, 2005 02:30 PM
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Chris, I love your compromise view -- you know how to keep the love in your relationship alive. Beautiful story, as always, full of layers: descriptive and meaningful.

Posted by: Maureen at November 22, 2005 02:40 PM
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That just makes me so happy. Here's to another year full of things to be grateful for!

Posted by: Space Kitty at November 22, 2005 03:18 PM
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LA, I was a ripe old 29 in 1989.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 22, 2005 09:07 PM
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Memory is a very sharp sword - we tend to shave away everything but the most essential. For me, time always compresses - I remember the emotion with clarity, the circumstances surrounding it can often be a bit vague. Thanksgiving is both good and bad, warmth and recrimination. I have forged my own family, and the memories I set are now of my own creation. Still - those older times can really intrude - for both good and ill.

Posted by: The Fat Lady Sings at November 22, 2005 10:49 PM
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sweet! funny how the moments we remember fondly are not always shared by everyone who experienced them...i guess our stories really are our own. hope you have a happy thanksgiving - there is much to be thankful for.

Posted by: Anne at November 23, 2005 09:01 AM
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Happy Thanksgiving, Chris, and thanks for yet another beautifully-told story. I do like that conclusion you came to - a definition of how-to-be-married if I ever heard one!

Posted by: beth at November 23, 2005 10:07 AM
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