It’s three days before “turkey day” otherwise known as Thanksgiving here in the US. The grocery stores are overflowing with shoppers pushing carts full of 20 pound turkeys, bags of dressing, stalks of celery and pumpkin pies. They check their lists or their phones making sure they don’t forget that ONE item that, God forbid, they would need to send someone out to Super America for an hour before the big meal. At home their roasters have come out of hiding, grandma’s gravy boat is wiped out and the good tablecloth gets another chance to see the light of day. Personally I don’t like to cook but I have wrestled my share of slimy birds in the kitchen sink, while the family sleeps in, trying not to gag as I cleaned out the innards. Due to that, I have a huge respect and appreciation for those who love to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, or any big meal, for their family and friends.
According to Google, it was George Washington, in 1789, who issued a decree calling on everyone to celebrate a “public day of Thanksgiving,” and Congress in 1941 who declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday to occur on the fourth Thursday of every November. School history books tell stories about the pilgrims sharing their bounty with the Indians; maybe they had turkey, maybe they ate duck. Who knows. The point was that families, neighbors, friends (and even foes) came together, shared their food… and gave thanks for what they had.
I have very fond memories of Thanksgiving as a child. As far back as I can remember, our living room became a train of connecting tables extending from the kitchen door all the way across the living room to the fireplace. By the time my mother and my aunts had everything out of the oven, every chair around the table was occupied. My cousins and I sat between aunts with too much rouge and large clip-on earrings and uncles who smelled like aftershave. We fidgeted, licked our forks and lost our cloth napkins on the floor while we waited. Cousins too small for the big table were seated at a small table in the kitchen, a place where it was acceptable to spill your milk and complain you didn’t like carrots. At some point one of the adults would give a loud “Shhhh” and the room fell silent as my uncle said a short prayer to which everyone old enough to know better responded with a loud “Amen.”
I imagine now how the women in the kitchen must have waited for that word, “Amen”, as if they were horses at the starting gate, their hands holding hot plates and bowls of steaming food just waiting for the sound of the gun. “AMEN!” Out they would come in fast order, handing off dishes and pot holders to the table of eager hungry guests. First came the mashed potatoes, then turkey, then stuffing, then gravy. You had to pay attention and be prepared for what was coming next. You had to be quick and decisive. Holding up the line to get just the right piece of turkey put you in the spotlight. If you were lucky, the aunt sitting next to you would let the corn go past without stopping. I always like that aunt. Then came the green bean casserole, the yams and the cranberries. Our plates filled up fast, gravy dripped onto the tablecloth and ran down our shirts. It was good food. But what I remember most, even after all these years, was the joyous noise of my family enjoying each other’s company, the roaring laughs of my grandpa and uncles as they told jokes to me and my cousins and the satisfied sigh of my grandma in the kitchen when the last dish was dried and put away.
Of course, like other holidays to come, these large Thanksgiving meals wouldn’t last forever. Once the matriarchs of the family passed on, aunts and uncles celebrated with their own children who had married and started their own families. Cousins I had celebrated with every year, I would never share Thanksgiving with again. It took some getting used to. I remember thinking that once I had my own family I wouldn’t let Thanksgiving just die. Bitter? maybe. But I was a teenager who didn’t like change, and everything was changing.
And its still changing…
While I hosted a few Thanksgiving dinners around long connected tables while my kids were growing up (including their cousins), sadly it didn’t happen often enough. If I knew then what I know now I would have insisted on it. The holiday song about “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go” is just a fantasy of mine now. I’m still waiting for the Thanksgiving dinner where my three kids, their spouses and my 5 grandchildren are all around the same table together. I really wish Congress could declare that “all children must come home for the holidays.” Then… I would go buy the biggest turkey my sink could handle, bake a real pumpkin pie, make silly paper turkey garland, and even buy a gravy boat. I would seat my grandchildren between their aunts and uncles they don’t often see and I would allow even the littlest ones at the big table. I wouldn’t care if milk got spilled or my tablecloth was permanently stained by cranberries. And after I said a short prayer and everyone said “Amen” I would just stand back and enjoy the sound of them, around my table, together, the site forever woven in my heartstrings, making memories.
This Thanksgiving, love the ones you’re with like they’re family even if they’re not. Invite a neighbor, a college student, or someone who is away from home for whatever reason to your dinner table. Somewhere there is a mother saying “thank you” for sharing your family with hers.