Thanksgiving for us meant ‘home again’. My parents started flying me and my sisters back for the full winter break starting in 5th grade. We usually got home right in time for Thanksgiving and the home cooked feast that came with it.
Food was a really big deal for me, beginning in early childhood. Good food meant care and love. Bad food meant negligence and ineptitude. My mother and my aunts cooked GOOD food. My guardians, and my other ashram ‘bhenji’s’ cooked god-awful swill.
The distinction between good food and bad food came to me at age five during my first summer at Khalsa Children’s Camp. Eight weeks of burnt ‘bear mush’ porridge, peanut butter banana sandwiches (gross), whole wheat (cardboard) sheet pan vegetable ‘pizza’, wheat-berries, mung beans and rice, boiled-to-death vegetables, carob chips, and oranges–way too many oranges! No butter, no salt, no sugar, no honey, no chocolate, and no cheese.
Even as a five year old, I wouldn’t dignify what was being placed in front of me as food, and I chose to go without. I angrily built-up resentment toward these so-called grown ups who demonstrated such disregard for what should be a sacred responsibility. I took the insult personally. How could I not? We depended on these adults and they didn’t even care about life enough to give this essential part of it a shot. Then, when I was sent away to live with guardians at age seven… that was the worst. She sent us to Khalsa School–every day–with an unseasoned, cooked-to-death whole beet or whole squash stuffed into a paper bag. When you get a lunch sack like that at 4:00am it does not last ’til lunch time. It turns into a slimy, wet pile of compost. I have vivid memories of hurling my sack-lunch at the side of the school trailer. I’m not eating this! Splat! My anger over bad food, yeah maybe it was a little irrational, but it was very real.
I suppose my protestation was my way of expressing frustration at the separation from my parents and the discomfort it caused. Home meant warm baths, yummy food, television, hugs, getting tucked in to a warm bed each night, and then in the morning climbing in to mataji’s bed to snuggle. Each and every one of those things was absent when I wasn’t living at home.
Let us be reminded of why we were not living at home like regular kids. No our parents were not derelect in the legal sense of the word. And no, we children were not taken by CPS and sent to foster care. Our kind of separation was a choice–albiet a “bounded choice” (see Janja Lalich). Yogi Bhajan encouraged family separations in order to break up the strength of the family unit. The reason was so that he could control his devotees easier. He told them that “attachment” would make their children become “neurotics” (the noun not the adjective). And they believed him and they were genuinely frightened that they would ‘ruin’ their children. He told them that creature comforts weren’t only unimportant but were actually harmful, and told them that if us children were deprived of them, then we’d know how to survive during the so-called “piscean to aquarian age transition” apocalypse.
It didn’t matter that to a child, the comfort of home translates directly to being cared for, being nurtured and being protected. It didn’t matter that this actually means something, and that children experience these things in a very real, palpable way. It didn’t connect that being removed from these things would be really traumatic and that this trauma would have an affect on our developing brains which would carry over into adulthood or for the rest of our lives.
We knew the comforts of a loving, caring home, which is what made the experience of being taken from it that much more irritating. And it made that brief winter respite–and being able to be home for Thanksgiving–that much more special. It symbolized that all could be well with the world again, even if temporary.
Every year, I cherish Thanksgiving at home. We cook a delicious feast and we drink beautiful wine, and we relish in the comforts we have made for ourselves, each one chosen and intended. We sit down on our comfortable couch and we watch The Wizard of Oz and I cry when Dorothy clicks her heels and says “There’s no place like home”.