Gratitude for a Thanksgiving Trip Not Taken (a/k/a why is it called the “Garden State”?)

 

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I wrote a really lovely Thanksgiving blog post yesterday which I am NOT going to share with you.

(lucky you)

It was a heartfelt, poignant, perhaps bordering on maudlin essay, one of my favorite kind.  I described the Connecticut Thanksgivings’ of my early childhood, my family’s visits to our cousins’ house on “Walnut Tree Hill Road” (a very Thanksgiving-ish name, no?), the New England-y food we ate, watching their old black lab, Domino, on his pillow, snoozing when we came into the house and still snoozing when we left hours later…

Then I thought – this post is a snooze too! Who really wants to hear about other people’s childhood memories? Unless they are either hilarious or deeply tragic, most stories of other people’s childhoods do not capture my interest, falling in that dreary middle between boring and mundane.

And I am neither.

Then I thought, I should write about what I am truly grateful for – as so many other writers do.

Health always comes in #1. All the more for me after I “enjoyed” most of November 2012 in the hospital, including a self-pitying and extremely long Thanksgiving day spent solo in my hospital room hooked up to beeping machines. (My family did visit me that evening, bringing stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie, but gulping them down on a hospital tray did not make for a festive holiday.)

So after my own health, there are gratitude votes for the health of everyone else in my family (ups and downs this year but we are all intact) and for the health of our two rescue terriers (also ups and downs but also intact).

But writing about gratitude can also be boring and mundane.

And as I may have told you, I am neither.

Therefore (a lawyer word I miss using) this Thanksgiving my emphasis will be on a more selfish kind of gratitude – for a task I no longer have to complete, an obligation with which I no longer have to comply, a trip I no longer have to take.

For what am I grateful?

We will NOT be spending the major part of our Thanksgiving holiday on the New Jersey Turnpike.

To my readers who grew up in, live in or otherwise admire New Jersey, I hasten to reassure you, that I, too, think New Jersey, nicknamed “The Garden State” for some reason, does have lovely spots, most of which I have not seen, except for a town near Atlantic City where I visited a boy I dated in college who lived in a very nice house near the shore, but I digress. But honestly, even you who live in N.J. must admit that your major thoroughfare does not show your state off to its best advantage.

Yes, your Turnpike has its moments in popular culture – think of the opening credits of the “The Sopranos” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”  where they sang about “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

But those brief moments of beauty do not make it a pleasant place to spend any amount of time, particularly for holiday travel.

No matter what time we left Washington DC to drive to Connecticut, the minute we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey we would hit accidents, rubbernecking and traffic. The drive grew inexplicably longer each year, to the point where my husband and I had all but memorized the locations of the poetically-named “rest areas” – the “Walt Whitman” near Cherry Hill and the “Joyce Kilmer’ near East Brunswick – all the while enjoying ill-kept bathrooms and the company of surly fellow travelers eating yesterday’s French fries.

Then we had kids and we had no choice but to take them with us.

Traveling with little kids in the backseat of your station wagon during the holidays on the New Jersey Turnpike in the pre-historic days of the 1980’s and 1990’s before they were able to self-amuse with their own individual screens was an exercise in such extreme endurance as to make CrossFit seem like an easy stroll.

We fared no better on the return trip. Our Sunday drive back stretched to nine or 10 hours. Even when we changed our plans and left on Saturdays, we still found clogs of traffic. No matter what time of day, we hit tons of it. Always in New Jersey.

(Maybe residents of New Jersey, and there always seemed to be a suspiciously high number of New Jersey license plates on the cars stuck along side of us, have a passive-aggressive hobby on Thanksgiving weekend where they purposefully drive very slowly up and down the length of the Turnpike in large groups to create those road signs flashing “Congestion” so that non-residents will suffer enough to not want to return next year?)

But sadly, Thanksgiving travel on the New Jersey Turnpike resembles childbirth. It is painful but the outcome is good. So you do it again the next year even though you may have promised yourself otherwise.

About five years ago we hit a wall. Time to break up with the Turnpike. We had aggravated each other long enough. Let others have the pleasure of standing in line in a bathroom filled with screaming toddlers.

Yes, in consultation with our family in Connecticut, we made the mature and long overdue decision not to travel over the holidays. We would visit the grandparents early in November each year to assuage any holiday guilt and enjoy a faux Thanksgiving.

Now on the days before Thanksgiving instead of gearing up for the annual Turnpike slog, I anticipate being snug and cozy this Thursday with our own family (now adult kids who live within non-turnpike-driving-distance; one married, one significant other and one grandchild who weighs about the same as a large turkey but is much more fun to be with.)

Farewell Forever Mt. Holly Exit!

So long New Brunswick!

Won’t-Be-Missing-You-at-All Newark!

Happy Thanksgiving! And Safe Travels all.

 

 

 

15 Comments

November 25, 2014 · 6:26 pm

15 responses to “Gratitude for a Thanksgiving Trip Not Taken (a/k/a why is it called the “Garden State”?)

  1. Judy Cain

    This post makes me smile a whole lot! I grew up in New Jersey, and in fact I taught my youngest sister to ride her bike on the Garden State Parkway before it was officially open. But the Parkway and the Turnpike are no fun when they are congested, which seems to be most of the time. I don’t miss it either. Happy Thanksgiving from upstate New York!

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    • Judy, our daughter went to Colgate (upstate NY for those who may be reading this and not know that important fact) and I loved the area around there. Much nicer than New Jersey, IMHO!
      Nancy

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  2. So tough when things mean A LOT to you, to think it won’t resonate with others. But you wound up with a keeper.

    I started three posts about Thanksgiving that just devolved into a sugary puddle before I got irritated and came up with the one I was trying to write.

    Happy family, and happy Thanksgiving!

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  3. Airline travel’s a piece of cake compared with the NJ Turnpike. Just saying.

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  4. YES! YES! I know!! We go to NY regularly from NC and OMGAH that tpke is the pits!! I love this. It’s hilarious and real. Well done and not boring at all. 😉 Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be home, like you, and not traveling one bit!

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    • thank you, Andrea! last night a friend of mine was on the southern end of the NJ turnpike, stuck in traffic, when she read my latest post and texted me ” too late!” So glad we are not making this drive. Enjoy your holiday at home as well! nancy

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  5. I hate turnpike driving! We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year so thankfully no driving for us, either.

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  6. No driving for us this Thanksgiving, either! I love staying cozy at home this time of year

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  7. We’re with you on all the traditional stuff to be thankful for – life, health, family – all that is good. We’re even MORE with you on being thankful for doing the less stressful version of celebrating this year sans highway travel!

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  8. I’ve only been on that road 3 times but still remember the nightmare of traveling it. I don’t blame for being grateful to get to skip it!

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  9. Suzanne Fluhr

    My grandparents (both sets) lived in Brooklyn, NY. We lived in Philadelphia. Every Thanksgiving we drove to Brooklyn. Every Thanksgiving we had a flat tire on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Remember when flat tires were a thing you had to worry about?) Every Thanksgiving, my father got lost. How was this even possible? The only bright spot during these trips was the stop for a pistachio ice cream cone at a rest stop. They were Howard Johnsons for a long time. One of the biggest aha moments of my life was when I learned that Joyce Kilmer—was a man. P.S.: Favorite lawyer word I still occasionally whip out: notwithstanding

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  10. Elisa Maselli

    Speaking as a long-time resident of NJ (25 years this time around, plus another 7 or 8 as a kid), I can assure you that NO ONE likes traveling on the Turnpike – or the Parkway. Or my actual least favorite, 287. Even we toughened veterans of NJ traffic hate those roads. Just last week, on a Friday evening in the rain, it took me over 2 hours to go about 50 miles on our terribly trafficky main arteries. I chortle when my parents complain about the traffic where they live in Winston-Salem, NC, and there are maybe 6 cars on the road.

    On the other hand – you owe it to yourself to get off the Turnpike at least once and explore some of the rest of NJ. I know we have a PR problem – reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of NJ” do us no favors, nor do Bridgegate and the unusual odors emanating from our various landfills – but parts of NJ, large parts actually, are quite charming, as long as you stay away from the major thoroughfares. Which can be hard to do – I think my GPS gets a commission every time it points me toward 95 and the Turnpike. Which is often. Even when it’s not necessary.

    And yes, staying home for the Thanksgiving holiday is the best option of all. I myself had dinner with friends locally this year, not driving (or flying, which is really insane) for the first time in decades, and it was wonderful. Relaxing. I actually came back to work on Monday calm and focused, instead of tired and frazzled. It only took me 40 or so years of adulthood to figure it out, but I highly recommend it.

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  11. I’m really amused by this post 1- because of the funny writing but 2- because for the past 6 or 7 years that’s how I have felt…about Connecticut. Leaving NYC to get to Boston, almost the entire trip is CT and can vary from 4 hours to…eight at least. I find myself cursing CT a lot on that trip. Maybe everywhere is someone’s NJ

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