ֱThanksgiving?ֱ Mom said, reflecting on her childhood. ֱWe were so poor. Everyone I knew was poor! It was 1931, the year my mother died. I might have been 5.ֱ

This was a story I knew by heart. Mom told me many times.

ֱWe were lucky to have food. I was very quiet, very shy. You! You are your father all over again,ֱ sheֱd say with a nod to Dad ֱ my father, James ֱJimֱ Veves.

Dad was very outgoing, a real extrovert. It wasnֱt until she met him that my mother even knew what Thanksgiving was.

ֱIt was the Depression. People have forgotten. After my mother died ֱ she was so young, a simple infection, because we couldnֱt afford a doctor ֱ Dad fell apart,ֱ she said. ֱThere was no health insurance. There was no Social Security. Life was short and brutal, especially for women.ֱ

She was the baby and her father couldnֱt care for her, so she was ֱshuffled around to relatives.ֱ

My maternal grandfather, George, had been an enterprising Greek American before losing his wife.

ֱHe was a barber with his own shop. He was doing well. But he had five kids. No one even knew what birth control was. People were ignorant where sex was concerned,ֱ Mom told me.

ֱIt all went down the drain with momֱs death and the Depression,ֱ she said. ֱHe never recovered. Drink and depression killed him.ֱ

Back then for her, holidays were ֱa quiet affair.ֱ

ֱNo feast like today,ֱ sheֱd say. ֱThen I met your dad! Those Thanksgivings with Yiayia (my paternal grandmother, Helen) were new to me. But it was now the late ֱ40ֱs. Things were improving.ֱ

Then the menu would roll off her tongue:

ֱSpanakopita (spinach pie), avgolemono (egg lemon soup), and lamb. Plenty of garlic and lemon everywhere,ֱ she told me. ֱYour grandmother always smelled like garlic. ֱ

ֱYou do too!ֱ

She always reminded me of that with a chuckle ֱ as does my partner today, although she doesnֱt chuckle about my constant aroma of garlic, oregano and lemon, the staples of the Greek diet.

ֱI hope people remember how bad things were so they know how good they have it now,ֱ Mom would say.

She never understood why people suggested things could be great ֱagainֱ when the past contained such horrors.

ֱHow can anyone say it would be great again when a woman had few choices: have babies, be a nurse, a secretary, or, maybe, a teacher ֱ or worse.ֱ

I knew what ֱor worseֱ meant.

For me, had it not been for my love of sports, I might have fallen in with the wrong crowd in the 1960s. I was terribly intellectually rebellious, a trait I developed from a similarly intellectually rebellious older brother, Arthur (who high-tailed it to Arizona). Itֱs a trait I carry with me to this day.

The 1960s were a great time to grow up. But it was also a terrible time: three major assassinations and Vietnam existed side-by-side with the Beatles and the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox, and Bobby Orr on the horizon.

Assassinations, the shame of Vietnam, the disgust of Richard Nixon, the sadness of the Iranian hostages, the scandals of Reagan and Oliver North, the illegal war in Nicaragua, the shame of Clinton and Lewinski, the trauma of 9/11, the debacle of the Iraq invasion, the inability of Obama to get things done, and now the hatred-anger-nonsense of Donald Trump: all now part of our troubled mythic past.

Our nefarious past exists in tandem with our greatest achievements: vaccines, the eradication of polio, civil right accomplishments, Title 9, womenֱs rights, community colleges, Reagan standing Mikhail Gorbachev saying, ֱTear down this (Berlin) wall!ֱ

It exists with the great 1990s economy, beginnings of the internet, rebuilding after 9/11, health insurance for everyone, and, finally, an infrastructure law boosting the building trades.

The best always seems to sit side-by-side with the worst.

I think about how America can do so much good. But we are capable of so much bad, too. Around the holidays I think about things my parents told me about the great and the bad.

I would explain to Mom it was a mythic past that really never existed except in our imaginations.

Our country praises an ugly past as if we should make the country like that again: antisemitism of the 1930s, the shame of Joe McCarthy, limited voting rights, control of women, low pay for teachers, homosexuality criminalized, Donald Trump declaring in language Adolph Hitler used suggesting immigrants are vermin?

This is not ֱgreat again.ֱ

After Dadֱs death, Mom slowly descended into depression, sadness and dementia. She died in 2020 at age 93. It was a slow, agonizing time for her ֱ as well as for me.

Mom wanted me to remember the stories of her life. It wasnֱt that she couldnֱt let go of the past. It was more that she wanted me to always be moving forward.

She would often end her story with, ֱItֱs all in the past.ֱ

We all have remarkable life stories to tell. I remember these things now every holiday season.

ֱYour grandfather would have thought you were some big shot if he had ever seen all those horses you owned,ֱ Mom said, referring to another life I once had as an owner of an equestrian stable.

ֱIf your dad saw you dance now on stage, he would have loved it,ֱ she told me.

Dad loved stage acting and enjoyed things like running marathons and dancing.

ֱBallroom dancing! If dad ever laid eyes on ֱ whatֱs her name, your teacher?ֱ she asked.

I said my teacherֱs name is Lindsey from the Krystal Ballroom in Salem, N.H.

ֱHe would have wanted her to teach him, too!ֱ she said, then bellowed with laughter.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think of you ֱ sons and daughters, cousins, friends, extended relatives, those of you who are, perhaps, alone ֱ and I think how we all should spend some time remembering our past this holiday season. and I think of how we should share those memories with someone.

But we also need to realize there is no better time than the present. While we take time out for nostalgia, we also must remember to keep moving forward.

Our best days lie ahead, not in the past.

Michael Veves is a retired teacher, former professional equestrian, turned amateur ballroom dancer who substitute teaches ֱto afford ballroom lessons!ֱ

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