I love Thanksgiving, always have. It is my favorite holiday of the year, even though I don’t much like pumpkin pie or most people’s stuffing.
I had an aunt who went too heavy on the sage in her cornbread stuffing for my taste when I was a kid, and my grandmother – who was otherwise a good cook – added oysters to hers. I loved my grandmother, and I like oysters, but, well, those little buggers were too much for me cooked inside a turkey. So I stuck to mashed potatoes, gravy and corn pudding as my sides.
Still do — with a few brussel sprouts thrown in for good measure.
But the food, as good as it can be, isn’t why I love Thanksgiving. It is the day’s simplicity. It is its uncomplicated, uncommercialized roots. It is gathering around a table, luxuriating in time together – and if the spirit so moves between football games and seconds on dessert, it is a time to tell stories and stir up a few memories.
At least it used to be.
Call me hopelessly nostalgic – and perhaps even overstating my case to make a point – but it seems Thanksgiving is almost invisible on calendars these days. For some, the day is almost an inconvenience, a stopping off point, before Christmas shopping commences. It is something to get out of the way, not to celebrate for its own sake.
Radios have been playing Christmas music since before Halloween. TV movie channels started counting down to Christmas the end of October, skipping over Thanksgiving, heading straight for the 25th of December – no time to even consider making homemade cranberry relish (which hardly anyone eats at my house) this year.
You don’t have to say it. I know. Times change. Traditions change. The world of retail only has so much time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make a profit. Reality sets in.
But I can dream. I can remember Thanksgivings when my sister-in-law and I danced in the kitchen, instinctively know what the other needed, as we set the table and later cleaned up. I can remember stories that started at the table, continued at the kitchen sink and finally ended over a game of pinochle. More than memories, they were family history. I can remember sitting at the end of the “kids’ table” on the piano bench with a cousin at one grandmother’s house – and adding chairs to the table at another for friends whose children couldn’t make it home for the holiday.
There was always room for one more – or two or three. We shared favorite traditions, food and stories, and no one’s was valued more than anyone else’s. We talked, and we talked, and we talked some more because we didn’t have to be anyplace but there, together. I do not mean to criticize other people’s traditions – people poised to shop for bargains before the Thanksgiving table is even cleared – but I wonder what one day at home (unplugged) not doing anything but being together would do for our collective sense of well-being. I think we need it, more than ever, in these times in which we live.
In the Thanksgivings of my youth, I heard stories about my great-aunts and uncles when I helped wash dishes. When I dried silverware, I learned about the Depression and world wars and how everyone moved to the farm, one way or the other, when times were bad. I heard my uncles actually tease my un-teaseable grandfather and listened to my grandmother giggle at their jokes. I listened to one set of relatives sing after supper and the other side of the family laugh so loud, it sounded like a chorus. At that house, someone always had to leave to milk the cows. Dairy farmers never had the day off.
It is different for everyone, of course. My traditions and memories aren’t yours. I have friends who went to a hockey game every Thanksgiving night. Others went to the movies. Still others took naps, en masse, before filling their plates a second time. The healthy-minded went for walks, got a little fresh air. I got to know my great-aunt because her husband went hunting on Thanksgiving, so she made an apple pie and came to dinner with us.
Am I better for it? I think so. If I’d been online to start shopping after my Thanksgiving meal, I might not have known the sound of her voice or heard the story of how she got her R.N. during the war when nurses were so desperately needed – or witnessed how much she and my grandfather liked each other, a brother and sister whose lives were not easy as children.
When I fill my Thanksgiving Day plate and proclaim my blessings this year, surrounded by friends and family I love, I’ll take those memories with me. They’ll have a place at the table, their rightful place, not short-changed, not rushed past on the way to someplace else. The rest of the year can wait its turn; a grateful thanksgiving is upon us, and I don’t dare miss it.
Susan Harrison Wolffis is an award winning writer known for her engaging writing style.