While peeling potatoes for Thanksgiving this year, my mind wandered, aimlessly unsealing memory pockets. This sorting process usually occurs at night, triggering insomnia. To clear my head, I jotted bits and pieces down.
ThisThanksgiving, there were many things to be grateful for, especially having all the “kids” over for dinner. We don’t take their presence at our table for granted. They’re all active, childless, busy adults. Their interests are varied, and their perspectives different from ours on how best to spend a holiday weekend. Both my husband and I are mired in the traditions we grew up with.
Thanksgiving in my parents’ home set the bar high for holiday expectations later in life. From the ceremonial uncorking of the wine to including friends who might have otherwise spent the day alone, my parents demonstrated an exemplary generosity of spirit. There was always room for one more at their table. As my mother used to say, “There but for the grace of God goes you.”
At nineteen, I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner for five. I was young and broke but optimistic. I was appropriately thankful, but I think there was much I took for granted. Feeling genuinely thankful doesn’t always happen naturally. It is a learned mindset. Learning is not always an easy or pleasant process.
Fast forward about fourteen years. I was newly divorced, with a son just under three-years old. My ex-in-laws wanted him for Thanksgiving, so I decided to make the best of it and go to a holiday buffet with a friend. As I stood on the doorstep of my in-laws’ house handing over my son, the scent of Thanksgiving permeated every cell of my being.
The fragrance of roasting turkey encircled me in a tight cocoon of loss. The fanciest restaurant buffet couldn’t begin to compensate for the lack of family on the very holiday that celebrates family and sharing. My life plan never included being divorced with a small child. I felt cheated of my long-held belief in traditional family values. I never felt less thankful.
I learned a lot on that unthankful Thanksgiving. My idea of what defined family shifted forever, and broadened. Close friends, blended family, extended family--those who accept you with unconditional love, those who can be trusted to stick to their word, they are your true family. I learned that what people preach means nothing compared to what they do. I also learned that there are no guarantees in life. You roll the dice and take your chances, and then you roll up your sleeves and create the life you want.
Yes, I amped up my ability to be deeply thankful for the people in my life and hold them close. And I also learned that celebrating holidays in a somewhat old-fashioned way is coded into my DNA, whether that means serving food at a charity dinner or creating a feast for fourteen at home. Over the years I’ve done both and everything in between.
Whatever did or didn’t happen between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans long ago is a moot point. We’ve dubbed the third Thursday in November Thanksgiving, and there’s not one of us who can’t benefit from observing the holiday tradition of giving thanks for life’s blessings.
So I extend a belated Thanksgiving thank you to all of you who are in my life: those I spend time with face-to-face, all you wonderful people who hang in there with me and accept my quirks, and those who have become part of my cyber-space life. I truly appreciate each and every one of you.
photos - my soon-to-be father-in-law, Thanksgiving 1998. He disliked turkey but loved pork chops, so I made him a huge pork chop, stuck with turkey feathers. The other is 1985, my son evidently not done with the Thanksgiving turkey.
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