Thanksgiving typically revolves around a gathering of one bloodline or another. Dad’s older sister, my Aunt Mona, her oldest son my cousin Mike, and his girlfriend Diane joined my parents, me and Ben this year, thus establishing it as a Ford Thanksgiving.
I am a Ford. Always have been. Always will be. Even married, I never changed my name. I have always been Kathy Ford. It is that part of me that comes from my father and the blood of our Albanian roots. Even mixed with all the other bloodlines that merge to make unique me, it is this Ford in me that runs strong, both in the way I look physically, to the way I relate emotionally, and ultimately to the way I stay close and connected through food and memory and family love.
Growing up in western New York State, most members of this Ford family were all within hours of each other. Every holiday was spent with family, in Rochester, Buffalo, or Jamestown. Memories are clear, heartfelt, always accompanied with a feeling of belonging. Now there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren and years of distance that make the memories all the more precious. The families are spread wide but still find ways to keep the connections alive.
This Thanksgiving gathering was a spontaneous and last minute arrangement with an invitation made and accepted just days before. We started the celebration early, first gathered around the table for lunch with Aunt Mona’s peta, a version of Albanian pie we all love. The layers of phyllo dough and savory spinach and cheese filling arrived on her mother’s pan, the one that would hold and bake the precious meals of peta Gramma would have waiting for us in Jamestown growing up. It didn’t take but a few bites before we were reminiscing. Ford memories. Being the oldest of the ten cousins, Mike and I have the longest memories of this generation, memories that weave into stories involving the generation of our sibling parents and their parents before them. We spent lots of time remembering our grandfather Andon who passed when we were still young, a man of great gentleness and wisdom, the times spent in his ‘Wisteria Grill’ in Jamestown playing the metal puck bowling game and chewing Beeman’s gum. Mike told the story of his first year in summer camp on Chautauqua Lake, an unsettled nine year old until he saw the carved named of Bob Ford, my father, looming overhead in his tent. With a broad grin, he shared how in that moment he was able to settle and experience the comfort of knowing his uncle Bob had been there too. Brother Bob and Sister Ramona shared their memories of traveling by boat with their mother to Albania as young children to stay for a year, only to return after six months because WW2 had started. How the arranged marriage between my grandparents was a love marriage too. The stories continued and looped back around to the very last Thanksgiving we had with Gramma in Jamestown, all four families and all ten grandchildren present, the Ford dynasty fully intact. Quite literally, when we each cover our faces except for our eyes, we all look the same. The genes are that strong.
What fun it was falling into this time warp that led us into eight continuous hours of being together in a flow of easy. I loved catching up with cousin Mike, a master of all moving vehicles, hearing that at the age of 62 he is still racing cars, and if not, still wanting to. I loved experiencing the possibility of blossoming into new happy relationship as he has with Diane.
I loved being with my Aunt Mona, now 86 years old, vibrant as ever, living alone in her own home still, surrounded by a family that has changed composition due to divorce and death, with her still finding a place in the center of it all.
I loved sitting in the circle of our time together just knitting and listening, sharing photos and stories, just simply being.
What emerged for me was the sense of resilience that can come with settling in and accepting where we are with family right now. It seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t resilience be born from big vision and looking to the future, breaking away, becoming independent, toughing it out? And it’s not that this wasn’t a necessary feature of this immigrant family that arrived at Ellis Island in 1908 and have their named changed to the one that represented one of the greatest visions of the century, the invention of the automobile. There had to be vision to land on foreign soil and make a new life. I am speaking of the resilience that is born of being in a safe place surrounded by family and all the forms of sustenance that allow wings to spread and become ‘American’. We Ford’s are hard workers. We can find peace through our stubbornness. We can soften through our determination. And though it might not always be obvious, or we may stray for a bit, we can be a devoted bunch that wants family to be in the center. We have strong focused energy that requires equally strong focused energy in relationship. Finding this balance has been easier for some of us, challenging for others. I marvel at and honor my mother’s continuing commitment to find this balance in her own relationship with ‘Ford’ and know it hasn’t always been easy with three of us, me my brother and father, to reckon with. We Ford’s are blessed with those that can celebrate being a Ford with us.
Ben and I ended up staying an extra day. It felt good being in the center of it, even through the moments when flow of easy got sidetracked. After days of beautiful sunrises shared with Dad and Nora,
of taking walks at the lake with the dogs and being one with the elements,
being physical as this particular Ford family likes to be,.it felt good to be there for a last fogged in day. Using up all the leftovers for that one last memorable meal. More time just being. Even Ben wanted to take some of this feeling back to school with him in the small container of the leftover leftovers of Thanksgiving dinner he insisted on. Smile.
I love being a Ford. I will always be Kathy Ford, with dark hair turning white and unlined olive colored skin like my father, big brown eyes like all my cousins, a love of coming together and celebrating with the food of our lineage, and as family, a dedication to maintaining the tradition of connecting over all the spaces of time and distance that seemingly separate us…