When I reflect back on past Thanksgivings, there’s not one holiday that stands above the rest.
We are a family of tradition and, so, every Thanksgiving, we would all pile into the car and drive the 20 minutes to my Aunt Pat and Uncle Steve’s house. My granddad would carve the turkey, saving the skin for Aunt Kim and I. He would pass the less savory bits (or the most savory bits, who can really tell?) to the dog that was circling his feet before plating the rest for us.
I would help set the table and then choose my spot by Uncle Steve near the end by the kitchen. His laugh is a penetrating, joyful laugh and it was a special reward to receive it from him, and I did often. We would pass the food around the table, though somehow the circulation would stop around my grandfather who happily munched away on his plate while whole halves of the table missed the dishes that had collected around him.
We played football and often I was the only girl on the field, reveling in my alone time with my male relatives. (And, thereby, avoiding clean up.)
Aunt Bea would make the pumpkin pies and Aunt Pat would dole out the Cool-Whip. I would sit next to my Nonie as she drank her coffee and ate her pie.
My brother and I always preferred to talk with the adults than continue any game we might play, until our younger cousins began to outnumber us and we chose to give their parents a break and play with them on the steps while every one else talked over their dessert plates and coffee cups.
I would eventually grow sick from my aunt’s cats and need to take a Benedryl. When my eyes refused to stay open (from either cat hair or antihistamine), we would pile back in the car and drive home. Finally, stuffed and happy, we would all fall asleep on the sofa while Home Alone played on the television. (Ah…tradition!)
Soon, divisions began to happen and the traditions were altered and/or halted completely. My parents’ divorce, my grandfather’s death… We continued on as best we could, but eventually the traditions melted into new ones.
Now, my mom and her brother and I sit in their old family home, dogs circling the table like hungry sharks, while they reminisce about their family stories and histories and traditions. They talk about the pies their mom made, the long table laden with food, the slightly smaller kids’ table, no less burdened with meal. They “do you remember?” and laugh and discuss whether they had five feet of snow or if that was the year before.
Flashes of past holidays, the repetition of events, glimpses that fold seamlessly from one year to the next. I can’t tell you what Granddad wore each year he carved the turkey, only that he did, nor can I say that I always sat by my uncle. The specifics don’t seem to matter in recollection, all that seems to matter is that it happened then and that some version of it still happens today. I was raised with the importance of tradition and, to this day, can still feel the positive effects of it on my skin and in my heart. I can still feel the love from each of these moments, whether they happened once or every time we sat down to feast on turkey and cranberry and filling.
Now that I think of it, perhaps I do have a favorite Thanksgiving after all…
The year I returned from London was the last year I had a Thanksgiving (or any major holiday, for that matter) with my Nonie. She was sick with cancer then and, though it would take 10 months to take her, it all crossed our minds that this could be her last. How sad that we had been right.
She sat quietly by the fireplace for most of the day and, for a long period of time, I sat at her feet, my head in her lap. It was a gesture I had done for 26 years on varying occasions, though I don’t know if she or I could have known it would have been the last time we would sit together like that. And, yet, I can remember the feeling of her hand in mine, her arms around my back, and the warmth of the fireplace as if it happened every Thanksgiving before and every Thanksgiving since.
Like the traditions and memories of before, it was completed with love and joy and gratitude for one another, for what we could “bring to the table.” And, so, it will last in my memory for years to come and, one day, perhaps I can discuss it around a table with my brother and our children and we can argue whether it snowed that day or if it was the year before.
These memories may speak of my yesterdays, but my yesterdays brought me to today and, for that, I am grateful. Today, I remember all that I am thankful for: the friends who make me laugh and support me, the family that gives me memories to call traditions, the job that I love, and the art I am developing and sharing.