For me, Thanksgiving will always be tied with Asheville. Later in December, that’s for traveling back to see my old haunts and my kin. Thanksgiving is something else.
When I moved here in 2005, travelling back for Thanksgiving simply wasn’t an option. There wasn’t enough time or money. The comforts of home — the full table, the welcoming stories and old memories — may have well been on Mars. Distance and scarcity imposed the same limits on most everyone I knew.
That first year — and after — we made it work. Sure, we were all low on money, but we had just enough to throw together a dish or scrounge a bottle of decent wine.
At least no one had to work that day: one of the few guaranteed reprieves from the pace required by the two to three jobs needed to keep food in the belly while trying for something better.
Most importantly, we had friends, and somewhere warmly welcoming to go during what could be a cold, bleak season.
We came here wanting to be artists, leaders, writers, and business owners. Some of us just felt home in Asheville in a way we didn’t elsewhere. Instead, we found something far different from the cheery, forward-thinking town of reputation: a hard place where far too many welcomed the cash-strapped, striving newcomers arriving every day not as the city’s potential future, but as suspect intruders worthy of contempt.
That first Thanksgiving taught me the meaning of the word. It was a relief and, for many of us, the first proof that we might have a life here, that the name “Asheville” might mean more than a series of shaky dreams dancing just out of reach. We could still come together around a common table and finally relax.
It wasn’t just us. A friend once told me how she loved organizing the annual Thanksgiving at the longtime punk house she called home, where many of the younger residents didn’t have a family to go back to.
Tomorrow might not be so easy. You’d stand, politely stone-faced, as customers worked themselves into frothing psychosis over the cookware sales. The Christmas soundtrack at work played on purgatorial repeat. The absentee landlady might suddenly decide that her self-actualization quest required kicking you and your roommates to the curb in a few months. Your home might get vandalized.
But not yet.
During Thanksgiving, we were reminded that we were still alive. We were happy. There was plenty and troubles were, for the moment, in the background. Perhaps our ambitions were even an inch or two closer than the year before. In Asheville, we had found a family, and we would survive.
I’m thankful for everyone that’s strived to make a home here, embodying the best Asheville hospitality: the kind that endures against the odds.