Thanksgiving is such a special day. We all give thanks in different ways – different customs, different foods, different groups getting together to celebrate. That’s the beauty of being a melting pot culture of various countries. I am, first and foremost, thankful for my family. Family is such a beautiful word and brings to mind such smiles of delight from memories we have created together over the years. And to me, it is not only the family I have known throughout my time here on earth, but the family that went before me, those I never met but have come to know through my research. What would we be without family?
What is your celebration of Thanksgiving? Throughout the years mine has changed, as I’m sure it has with everyone. When we were very young I remember going to my grandparents for Thanksgiving. Mom and Pap, my dad’s parents, lived in a house that was probably far tinier than what I remember. But no one seemed to mind. Everyone was together, playing, talking and laughing, while wonderful smells wafted from the kitchen from food that was cooked on a wood stove. It was usually cold outside and Pap had the stove in the living room filled with coal, keeping everyone toasty. And when he added another chunk we could see the red flames and sparks flying around inside the stove. Then we would step closer, holding our hands out to the warmth, and giggling, turned around to let our backside heat up. We were never really cold; it was just a ritual, a satisfying part of being in the warm cocoon of a loving family. And Pap would sit in his big chair, grinning at us. He was the first to teach me the value of family.
As I grew older, as well as my grandparents, we had Thanksgiving at home, with my immediate family, my mom and dad, my sisters and brother. Sometimes the family of an aunt or uncle would also be there, but generally it was the basic family unit. Mom always had a large turkey roasting in the oven, a large pan of her delicious dressing, sweet potatoes, which would later be topped with marshmallows, a pot of green beans that had cooked all day, cranberry sauce and rolls. Then there were the pumpkin pies. My mother, as most women of the day, made her crust. It wasn’t a store bought, frozen piecrust – that would never do! Usually the pies were baked the day before, so we enjoyed two days of scrumptious smells coming from the oven!
As we grew older and married there were more and more family members around the table. More dishes were added to the menu as we each found favorite dishes to share. I love making my own cranberry sauce with chunks of fruit and nuts. My sister is famous for her potato salad, another for her deviled eggs, and another for a pretzel salad. My brother just liked to eat.
When my dad died at the age of 50, there was one less at the Thanksgiving table. But we carried on. More children were born to my siblings; eventually some married and even had children of their own. What a boisterous bunch by that time – everyone talked at the same time, all with different opinions on whether the sweet potatoes should be mashed or cut into chunks, should we make another salad, what else could we make for dessert?
The last five years have produced different Thanksgivings. Ritchey had to work Thanksgiving Day each year. Linton, living in Indianapolis, was unable to come for the Thanksgiving weekend due to retail work and Black Friday. My mom’s health was failing, and with Alzheimer’s, was unable to cope with a house full of family. One of those years I spent the day with mom, cleaning her house, and not thinking about a meal until late afternoon. I decided to take the easy route and pick something up at a restaurant – and found everything closed! At Wal-Mart I found the last roasted chicken, some mashed potatoes and green beans at their deli. It wasn’t the homemade meal we usually had, but mom and I were hungry and enjoyed it thoroughly as we talked about past times.
My mom passed away in March and this will be the first Thanksgiving without her. There will be a tinge of sadness, but my mother lived each and every moment to the fullest, and I know that is what she would want for me. During her last years she would talk about living until she was 100 – because life was so much fun. Even illnesses didn’t get her down. But when she told my sister, about a week before she died, that life wasn’t fun anymore, I knew this was serious.
Since my daughter will feast with the in-laws, Ritchey and I are going to his brother’s family for Thanksgiving – along with their children and grandchildren, and other Brown family members. It will be another day of everyone talking at the same time, jokes abounding, laughs, hugs and games – and so much food! Saturday my very pregnant daughter and her husband are coming to our house – reminding me that next year, a new little face will be at our table. For a Thanksgiving dinner? No, a Thanksgiving brunch! Frittatas, blueberry muffins, fruit, sugar-dusted beignets, bacon and sausage. Not your traditional Thanksgiving fare, but just as delicious! Besides, just having those two special people in our home is Thanksgiving to me and Ritchey – and we mourn that fact that Linton is not. But I am extremely thankful that for each Thanksgiving since he’s lived in Indy a German family has adopted him for the day. The family of a co-worker, he is reminded each year that there is a place for him at their table. Such special people!
Any holiday is not mandated by date or time or place. The day that Ritchey and I are with our children is Thanksgiving or Christmas or birthday – no matter what day it actually is. Whether we are at home, meeting half-way in Louisville, at the beach or at either of the children’s homes, at that place, at that time, together we celebrate. We celebrate family.