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Iguana Nights: Learning About Gratitude in Three Words



The extent to which the following  may speak to you may depend on your feelings about  German accents. I happen to have highly conflicted feelings about German accents, as anyone whose ancestors had to escape the holocaust would, with the complication being that many of those ancestors were German. Unless it is shouted, or given a sinister, Nazi-esque spin, German accented English often registers for me as a comforting sound.


It was a freezing Friday morning in New York City, the day after Thanksgiving, the sky clear blue and the sun sharp, when I came upon a scene on a side street strewn with leaves. A crowd surrounded a double parked car. The front passenger door was open. Could be anything, I thought–  someone trying to get out of a car. Someone trying to get in. Someone who had a fall or is sick or is just arriving. Baby or old person, I thought. Coming or going.

I hustled in big steps through the cold, my destination in sight.


The important facts, for me, about  Thanksgiving 2013


-We visited both families.

-We needed a vacation

-It was the most wonderful time, the most fantastic week, pure magic.

-You never know what happened to you until afterwards. For example on the day I am writing about it was two days after thanksgiving. Thanksgiving +2. And I had no idea what that day meant to me as I lived it. It is the anniversary of a death of a friend. But I had forgotten about it on that day. Even though it has been… I don’t even want to tell you how many years. Over a decade. It’s been over a decade since a friend of mine dropped dead on Thanksgiving +2.

(No, no, that is not right, he dropped dead on Thanksgiving +1, but I found out on Thanksgiving +2.)

But this did not occur to me on that day, that freezing cold day, or on the next day. It took over a week before it struck me, and that only happened because I was turning over in my mind the one shard of intense emotion – a feeling of happiness that contained a shard of sadness – that shot through me unexpectedly as I passed the crowd around the car on the freezing day as I hurried towards home at the end of the block. I was thinking, why was I so emotional on that day?


An Empty Street Two Days After Thanksgiving, 2013
An Empty Street Two Days After Thanksgiving, 2013

As I got closer to the crowd I spotted a clue that was central to the drama: a spiffy wheelchair. I got closer, still, and saw it wasn’t a wheelchair exactly, but  a kind of cross-trainer for the elders– more like a combo walker. I recognized the logo of the company that makes it, “Drive.”

A wheelchair made by that company has been sitting in my mother’s apartment for over two years. It is no longer needed. I tried to return it but due to a wrinkle in the rules of Health care, we  now own this wheelchair. And don’t really know what to do with it.



It is unusual for us to be in New York on Thanksgiving–we come up to New York for the Winter break but usually have Thanksgiving in New Orleans. However because it was Hanukah at the same time as Thanksgiving we were up for Thanksgiving. This meant the party at my friend’s house on 81st Street on the night before the parade. Her children and their friends. A crowded party of adults with many generations of youth scampering underfoot, mine among them.


The Iguana Unbound

I mention this party as an example of the magic of the holiday. It was a great party for the adults but that was not why it was magic. It was magic because there were children swarming throughout the rooms. I was in charge of Alexander, who ran around, but mostly spent time near a couch–he kept vaulting over the back, tumbling into the cushions, and then looking around to see if anyone was watching. I suspect he may have found his party strategy for the next fifteen or so years.

Because I spent a lot of time chasing Alexander, I was aware of this other current in the party, the one flowing closer to the ground–the kid current. At some point I had this intense memory of what it was like to be a kid at a party filled with grown-ups. The sense of conspiracy with other kids. The sense of having your own world.

When I asked Evangeline, later that night, if she had a good time, she looked at me and with eyes that could not suppress her excitement and said, “Daddy I learned how to touch fire.”

Apparently there was a lengthy session in a room with all the kids sitting around lighting matches, the older one’s demonstrating what to do with matches. In this apartment, in a closet, there also lurked a giant iguana. Or maybe it isn’t giant. Once, it escaped. This added yet another dimension of pleasure to the party–wondering if an iguana’s ancient head might peak out from among the pillows Alexander kept crash landing onto.


Someone was leaning into the front passenger seat area of the car. Someone else was loading a suitcase in the trunk. Another person who leaned into the front seat. I was quite sure I was witnessing the end of a visit. The duration of this visit could have been a morning – it wasn’t yet lunch time – or it could have been a week. I got closer, and I heard someone use the word mom, which interested me, because there were no young kids in that crowd. But you say mom way past one’s own childhood. Even into the age of being a parent, it stays on your lips: “Mom.”


I finally saw the passenger everyone was saying goodbye to: an old, white haired man. Someone was standing in the open door shaking the old man’s hand. I heard the old man, who was wearing a cap in the European style, say, “Sanks for everything!”

He had a German accent. Ruddy pink cheeks. I found it thrilling for some reason. It sounded so genuine.

How civilized this phrase was! I made a vow then and there to say “thanks for everything!” at the next opportunity.

But really I was thinking about the person who was hosting me and my family on this holiday when Thanksgiving and Hanukah overlap–my mother. And how, when I parted in a few more days, I was going to say it to her.

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