Many of us might be familiar with the iconic Thanksgiving painting by Norman Rockwell titled Freedom from Want. The saccharine smiles, the plentiful feast of food, and the meek elderly couple holding the turkey in the painting’s focal point all seem to offer a story of what Thanksgiving “should” be. The painting is a glimpse of Americana, a suggestion that the white, heteronormative, patriarchal family is ideal, especially during the holidays. Whether we realize it or not, it’s images like Rockwell’s painting (along with movies, TV shows, and greeting cards) that color our expectations of what Thanksgiving should look like. It occurs to me, then, that many of us have been a part of an imitation Thanksgiving: a celebration that aims to be like the ones we’ve seen in media.
Because this year was my first time being at Higher Ground at Thanksgiving, I was not quite sure what to expect for Phil-giving (our version of America’s “turkey day”). However, I was pretty confident that we would do things quite differently from the script mass media shares with us about holiday events. I figured we would have our own unique day, one different from the Rockwell painting…and oh yes, we indeed DID. For those of us whose hearts have found themselves bound to the mission Mark Cassity has facilitated at Higher Ground, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; we all know that at the house we never seem to conform well to norms!
So, due to the kindness of a Higher Ground member named Mr. Phil—the name-sake of our Phil-giving celebration—we had a beautiful Thanksgiving lunch for a crowd of about 36 people on Friday, November 23. Phil fried a turkey and served it with ham, dressing, corn, green beans, bread, and his own special mashed potato recipe. His cooking talents and expertise in the kitchen left folks feeling nourished and pleased. As we filled the tables and spread out in the living room to eat, all would have appeared similar to the Norman Rockwell painting, but the truth is that we were much more diverse, and much more knowledgeable about what’s at stake for folks living with HIV, poverty, and injustice in this world. We all came to the house that day with our distinct back stories, our own hungers, and our own reasons as to why we’re invested in justice. We came because we’re all different and we wanted to be with each other, regardless of our differences and hardships. I suppose that’s the factor missing from a lot of media about Thanksgiving. Besides, no Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting would ever feature Mark’s prayer bowl, folks singing gospel music before the meal, or Mr. Phil saying the sacred words “welcome home” to everyone present that day.
While I can not emphasize enough how beautiful and powerful Phil-giving truly was, it is still important to admit that the day had its imperfections. But that is what Higher Ground is about: there are always imperfections, and nothing runs totally smooth, yet some sort of magic still always happens. On Phil-giving, there might have been an accident with the thawing of the second turkey. The cord to the turkey fryer might have been accidentally left behind too. Initial cooking plans might have changed due to new realities of the day. Nevertheless, it all worked out. We’re a resilient bunch (especially Mr. Phil)! For example, volunteers Sherri and Rowland magically showed up with extra food (including an extra half turkey). They even brought supplies of pumpkin-spice related goodies. Other volunteers like April brought dessert. Even other members of the house, like Germaine and Melinda, made pies. No one left hungry that day. Spirits and bodies were fed with our feast of food and fellowship.
by Chase Hanes, Higher Ground Manager