Giving Proper Thanks

I’m not much of a holiday person. While the essence of Christmas is a lovely thought, I can’t bear suffering through six to eight weeks of blinking lights and enforced good cheer.

New Year’s Eve is nearly always disappointing, filled as it is with amateur drunks fighting each other for taxis and with well-meant promises that are rarely kept.

The Fourth of July leaves me cold, too. When everyone else is oohing and ahhing over aerial explosions, I find myself sneaking back indoors to read a magazine in relative peace.

Thanksgiving, however, is an altogether different animal. It’s the one day a year I allow myself to get emotional and caught up in holiday spirit.  I don’t even mind so much that my favorite holiday of the year is represented by a beast so fattened, inbred, and stupid that it hasn’t the good sense or agility to keep itself from drowning in the rain.

But turkey isn’t what’s important about Thanksgiving.  I could care less about it or Pilgrims or pumpkin pie. I don’t worry about nice china or getting out the “good” stemware or fussing over a tablescape.

Instead, I do what millions of other people do on Thanksgiving– I give thanks. I take stock of the year that has passed and dwell on the all the good things that life has given me rather than fret over the not-so-good, which is my typical habit. For me, Thanksgiving is the emotional equivalent of an engine tune-up., which always reminds me that one of the chiefest things I am grateful for as a San Franciscan is that I no longer suffer the headache of car ownership.

I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for being in possession of fine motor skills which allow me to type these words onto my keyboard. I am thankful for the ability to chew and swallow food. I am thankful that I can use the toilet unaided. I am thankful for my voice and the muscles in my throat which let me use it. I am thankful for all the little things I usually take for granted. And all of the big things I feel I take for granted, too.

I am grateful to the people who gave me life and thankful for the people in it who give that life meaning.

My head is spinning at the thought of all the kindnesses shown to me in the past year. The generosity of my food writing colleagues, some of which goes deeper than I can ever tell. The love and support of my family. The super-human patience of my friends. There are so many people in my life who are givers. It makes me wonder if I have been giving enough to them.

I always feel as if I’m the taker.

I have one friend in particular who seems to do all of the giving in our relationship. It’s just how she is– she’s an emotional caregiver. Last week she took on the burden of physical caregiving  as well when her partner suffered a massive stroke at the age of forty-five. He has made daily progress in his recovery, for which I am thankful, but my concern was for her. She’s always taking care of everybody else. But who the hell is taking care of her?

My first thought was “I’ll bet she’s not eating. She needs to eat something. I know she’s not sleeping.” I felt frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t doing anything for this woman who has done so much for me. I don’t have a car in which to shuttle her to and from the hospital. I don’t have much in the way of money to help meet hospital expenses. I don’t have a magic wand I can wave to fix everything.

But I do know how to cook.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that a phone call or a card or even an email is pleasant, but not especially helpful. A Facebook wall post saying “Sending hugs your way.” is not altogether meaningless, but it is done at a safe distance. It isn’t getting your hands dirty. And I think that’s what people need when they need support– they need the people around them to roll up their sleeves and help without being asked. I’ve lost so many opportunities to show people how much I care about them by worrying too much that I might be intruding or getting in the way.

I simply don’t want to be that person who says “Let me know if you need anything” anymore. I’m old enough to understand now that the person who needs something is either too exhausted or distracted or too polite to tell you what they actually need. If you care about someone, do the thinking for them.

If they have a lawn, mow it. Pick up their dry cleaning. Take their kids to school. Whisk them off to dinner. Pour them a drink.

Or cook something. Make it simple. Make it easy to eat and to store. Prepare a dish that you love or that you know they love, but make it something they won’t have to concentrate on too much. Make it nourishing.  Send it to them in a container they won’t have to worry about returning any time soon.

And don’t ask them how they enjoyed it because this isn’t about feeding your own ego, it’s about feeding someone you care for. It’s doing a little something for someone who has done so much for you. It’s a simple matter of being grateful that they are in your life.

It’s about giving proper thanks. And not just on Thanksgiving.

And to my friend who has always been such a wonderful soul: I promise not to ask you if you liked the pastitsio* if you’ll promise to get some rest.

Much love,



* There is no recipe posted as yet because, even though the recipe is adapted from my chef’s cookbook and I’m certain he wouldn’t care if I posted it, I need to ask formal permission from the publishers before posting. This clearly isn’t going to happen before the holiday now, is it?

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Rants and Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Giving Proper Thanks

  1. Giddy says:

    Mike, this post is beautiful. I feel the same way, but don’t think I could have articulated it so well. I’m thankful for you and all the other people I know who share their thoughts and lives in blogs, enriching my life along the way!

    • Thanks, Giddy. It’s nice to know blogs are good for something! I’m glad I was able to write it because it’s something a really wanted to say but wasn’t certain how. I’m thankful I figured it out in time for the Holiday.

  2. saVUryandsweet says:

    lovely post michael. i’ve got a lot to be thankful for, thanks for the reminder 🙂 have a happy thanksgiving!!

  3. Carrie Oliver says:

    I am thankful for you in helping keep life in perspective and honoring a true friend in such a lovely way. I made some manicotti recently for first time parents, something they could freeze and eat when they were too exhausted to, or just not interested in, cooking. They ate it that evening. I did make the mistake of asking how they liked it; thank you for pointing out that this is a bit, what’s the word? Not classy.

  4. jim clay says:

    i aspire to help people in ways that are never considered, to try to visualize what others in distress are going through and to offer an anonymous helping hand that just might be appreciated. usually it involves food… sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. your thoughts and words express what i could never say, but what i try to do. i have tears dripping off of my chin, not of sadness, but of shear delight that you were able to put into thoughtful prose that which i can not. you have nailed the true meaning of thanksgiving. it was your offbeat tweets that i noticed and have followed, but this makes you a true friend. thank you

  5. Barbara says:

    You are a good friend. This is a lovely Thanksgiving post.

  6. Lawrence in Ohio says:

    Lovely post, Michael.

    I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. One of them is that it does not have to be wrapped and sent UPS or USPS. Another reason I love Thanksgiving is because I am going to the supermarket and florist anyway, and don’t have to go anywhere else. In my experience, and I may be rare (or lucky), Thanksgiving is a low-key, low-drama sort of day. As I always do, I am going to read George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion on Thanksgiving afternoon, I have done so every year since I was fifteen.

    Yes, there does come a time when “let me know how I can help” is not sufficient.

    I am glad that I came across this delightful corner of oddness.

    Lawrence in Ohio

    • Lawrence– Do you mean to tell me that you find Thanksgiving a mere holiday of convenience? If only Christmas were like that.

      Thanks. I’m glad you came across my little corner, too. And I’m happy you find it delightful. I’ve never considered its oddness, but I will take your word for it (insert winking emoticon here.)

  7. Julie says:

    Thanks Michael for this lovely post.

    • Thanks, Julie. I’d like to say that it was my pleasure to have written it, but pleasure had nothing to do with it. I am, however, very glad I got to say what I wanted to say. Thanks for letting me know you liked it.

  8. sonya says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Michael! Yet another thoughtful post from Food for the Thoughtless. I agree, making food for others is one of the most giving acts we can do. Beautiful pastitsio – I’m sure it offered some much needed deliciousness and nourishment to your friend during a trying time. Best wishes for a smooth recovery for her partner.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    What a gorgeous and thoughtful post Michael. Your words are always so poetic and here they really do shine with the true spirit of this dreary time of year. I can’t say I feel the same way about holidays (with kids and a full time working husband, I long for these long weekends like a drunkard longs for his next bottle), but I can agree with you on what to do for those who need help. They don’t ask, they just hope. Hope that someone will pick up on the fact that they are emotionally and physically drained. That they need help with the simplest things, and my favourite, like yours, is to give food. What could be more comforting and nourishing than food made with love?

  10. Thea says:

    You nourish your friend with pastitsio, and you nourish us with your words. Thank you. I am grateful to have discovered your blog this year. Each post enriches my life.

  11. matt says:

    Great blog, Michael. Really effectively says what this season is all about & why It’s my favorite of all Holidays. I’m thankful to call you a friend, all these years later.

    • Matt! It tok me a minute to figure out which Matt this was. And then I noted the email address and knew. I’m so happy you let me know you read the piece and that you’re glad to be my friend. The feeling is mutual.

  12. Jay Floyd says:

    This post was one of my favorite things this Thanksgiving. So, thanks.

  13. You nailed it, my new addition to the Clarion Alley dwellers!
    Thank you for prosing it so aptly with humor and care.

  14. julie says:

    Michael, the pastitsio was a delicious embodiment of your love and care. I enjoyed every bechamel bite and it was the most perfect comfort on cold nights, outside of a hug from you. Thank you for being such a gifted, kind and wonderful man. You bring so much to us, the ones who are lucky enough to call you friend.

  15. Thank you for this beautiful post. I’m thankful to have met you, my friend. And thankful that you have that wonderful mind of yours that can write those great words down and put them up on this ever entertaining blog to remind all of us that being a friend and a good person is about our DEEDS and ACTIONS, not our words (via Twitter and Facebook and all that media we so love to use to keep us at a “safe distance” as you say). Amen. Here’s to the doing.

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