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A Thanksgiving Memory: Trying Something New

The night before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t sleep.  A wave of panic had engulfed me.  In a little over twelve hours, twenty or so people would be arriving at our house for Thanksgiving.  Twenty or so people we’d invited.  Twenty or so people who were expecting a traditional Thanksgiving meal- turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the other stuff.

The reason for my panic was quite simple.  I’d never cooked a turkey.  Ever.  Never even tried.  Heck, I hadn’t even made mashed potatoes before (unless you count the instant kind).

When the genius idea of inviting everyone to our house had popped into my mind a couple of months before, my lack of cooking experience didn’t even register with me.  With twelve hours until everyone sat down for lunch in our dining room, this lack of experienced seemed like a major issue.  What had I gotten myself into?

My motives, admittedly, were impure.  Tired of traveling from one set of parents to the next and finding the holiday to be more tiring than relaxing, I’d come up with this great idea.  “Let’s have Thanksgiving at our house and invite everyone here.”  How tiring could it be to cook for twenty people?

Since this occurred in 1997 or 1998, before the answers to any and all questions could be googled, I’d spent a couple of months searching through cookbooks and asking friends for their help.  (However, I did not ask anyone who’d been invited, lest they discover I didn’t know what I was doing.)  Despite my research, there were still just words on a page.  I had no actual experience.  I’d never attempted to put a bird in the oven.

Thanksgiving morning, operating on little sleep and lots of fear, I followed the directions of the recipe I’d selected and started cooking the turkey.  A few hours later, I pulled it out of the oven.  It looked like a cooked turkey and it smelled like a cooked turkey.  The final test would be whether it tasted like a cooked turkey.  Judging by the way everyone devoured the bird, I’m assuming the turkey actually tasted like a turkey.  (Either that or the gravy made up for any lack of taste.)

Later that night, twenty-four hours after having been overwhelmed with panic, I looked over at my wife and said, “We should invite everyone over for Christmas.”

***

My mom passed away this spring from stomach cancer.  In the month before she died, we tried something new, we talked.  Not just for minutes, but sometimes for hours and hours.  We discussed the future and revisited the past.

One of the things I asked her was why she’d quit her job at a San Antonio bank and moved to St. Louis to work for a cable company.  At the time, I was in the middle of my seventh grade year.

She started with the part of story I knew.  Someone at the bank where she worked stole thousands of dollars from the bank vault.  (I don’t remember the exact amount, it might have been hundreds of thousands of dollars.)  As one of the people with access to the bank vault, she was one of the prime suspects.  The FBI followed her wherever she went, they questioned her repeatedly, and for a period of time, a couple of investigators sat outside our house.  At the bank, her friends and co-workers thought she’d stolen the money.

This part of the story I’d heard before, but she’d never explained why she’d gone to St. Louis.

“I couldn’t keep going to work at a place where everyone suspected me of being a criminal, where everyone thought the worst of me.  I knew I’d be cleared eventually, but the status quo became unacceptable.”

She was sitting in a chair in her ICU room at the hospital and I was sitting in a chair across from her.

“If I couldn’t stay at the bank, then I needed to do something different.  I could’ve gone back to your father.  Maybe we could’ve tried again, but we’d given it our best for eight years and it didn’t work.”  She paused and took a drink of her juice.  “And then I had this chance to go to St. Louis.  I didn’t know anyone in the city or the state for the matter.  I didn’t know what the company would be like.  I didn’t even know if I would like the job.  This could be the best decision I’d ever made or the worst.  But if you know how the other options are going to turn out, if those are unacceptable, if you know you won’t be happy with them, then sometimes you have to try something new.”

The choice of St. Louis kicked off gypsie-like lifestyle for the next three years.  In that time period, she moved from St. Louis to Phoenix to San Antonio to Austin, then back to San Antonio, back to Austin, and then to Dripping Springs.  I lost count of how many times she changed jobs during these moves.

“It didn’t work out like I hoped,” she said, “but it was worth the try.  I had to try.  Looking back, I’d do the same thing again.”

***

It’s not like trying something new is easy.  At least for me.  Even when it comes to eating out, I tend to eat at the same places and order the same things.  Trying new things, taking a chance, usually involves some amount of fear, dread, and questioning.

But I’ve attempted enough new things to know that the fear and the dread and the questions are part of the process.  Like I learned from my mom, sometimes, things work out and sometimes they don’t.

When I’ve moved from one city to the next.

(How will I make new friends?  What if I don’t?  Where will I work?  Where will I live?)

I’ve always seemed to find a job, locate a place to live, and make at least one friend.

When I’ve changed jobs and careers (which I’ve done with regularity).

(What if I can’t do this job?  What if I’m no good?  What if I get fired?  What if my boss is a….?)

I’ve never failed and I’ve never been fired.  Have I always been good at what I do?  I’ve been good enough, I think.  As for bosses, I’ve had some great ones and some good ones and a few that I won’t say anything about.

When I stood at the start line for my first one hundred mile bike ride.

(What if I don’t make it?  What if I haven’t trained enough?)

Well, I barely made it and I hadn’t trained enough.  I was hurting the last thirty miles.  Every muscle and joint ached that day and for days to come, but I learned enough to help me on my next attempts.

When I started blogging, when I published my first book, when I published my second book.

(What if no one reads my stuff?)

I’ve heard from people all over the world who’ve either read one of my posts or one of my books.  I was simultaneously shocked and overjoyed when my copies of my first book sold in England.  In England!)

Whenever I’m considering trying something new, fear, dread, and questions become my new companions.  But if the status quo is unacceptable, if staying where you are and doing what you’re doing is only going to continue your misery and unhappiness, then maybe trying something new- whatever the fear or whatever the outcome- might be the only option.  It doesn’t have to be drastically new, like moving to a new city or changing careers.  It could be a new attitude or a new mindset.  But whatever new thing you try, sometimes you’ll succeed and sometimes you’ll fail, sometimes you’ll be right and sometimes you’ll be wrong, but at least you won’t be sitting there, unhappy, wondering, “What if?”

***

And next year at Thanksgiving, at the very least, you’ll have a story to tell of something you tried (and something you learned- because you will learn something.)

Try.

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