Thanksgiving is the the quiet, pastoral younger sibling to that jubilant, festive darling, Christmas. There’s a calmness surrounding Thanksgiving, like a deep breath before the whirlwind of the approaching holiday. I look out my window at the bare tree branches and gray sky and snapshots of Thanksgivings past roll through my mind.
The smell of turkey baking, the Thanksgiving parade on the TV (whether anyone’s watching it or not) followed by the Lion’s game (we may actually watch it this year), and the sound of Christmas music (Thanksgiving is the first official day of listening to Christmas music here, although every year someone tries to cheat and listen to it earlier). These are the traditions that have woven the background of Thanksgiving celebrations since my childhood, but every year has a unique flavor all it’s own.
When I was very young, we would spend Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s home. I can remember the heavy, unreadable stare of my grandpa during the meal. I didn’t realize it then, but the stare was one of amusement because my eating habits fascinated him. None of the food on my plate could touch, much less mix with any other food (making gravy verboten). I ate one thing at a time until it was finished, then I would turn my plate to the next item and eat that until it was gone. I continued in this way until the plate was empty or I came to something I wouldn’t eat. As our family grew, I was a relieved to add a child’s table in another room and be out of his range of vision.
Another snapshot takes place when I was in high school. Thanksgiving was celebrated at our house and we used the good china. I remembered that I just wanted to be alone, so I offered to do all the dishes myself (By hand. It was the good china after all). My family and our guests disappeared. The snapshot is yellowed and fuzzy, but I think I see a few tears trickling down the face of a teenager enjoying a solitary wallow in her angst. I know I broke one of the china coffee cups. My daughter inherited the china, and you can see the hairline crack on a cup handle that was glued back together.
The next snapshot is taken a few years later in the first apartment my husband and I shared in upstate New York. He worked third shift so we were often up before dawn. I remember going out for a walk on a frosty Thanksgiving morning before the sun came up. We went back to the apartment and I prepared a magnificent Thanksgiving feast: a twenty pound turkey (literally), a gallon of mashed potatoes and three pumpkin pies. I was used to cooking for seven people and I couldn’t seem to make the adjustment to cooking for two. I couldn’t understand why the potatoes looked untouched at the end of the meal. I was sure my husband hadn’t eaten enough, and I kept asking him if he wanted more potatoes. He declined and pointed out that two people would not make much of a dent in a meal prepared for seven.
The next snapshot is more of a feeling than an image. We moved to Ohio (both of our families lived in Michigan) and had the first grandchild on both sides. Suddenly holidays were not as enjoyable as they had been. There were more responsibilities and schedules to determine. Would we go back to Michigan or was someone planning to come to Ohio? What time would be spent with my family? What time spent with his? The list went on and on…
I finally told our families that Thanksgiving was our holiday. We were spending it alone at our own home. Nobody really minded; it made it easier for everyone else too. Once again I found the peace of Thanksgiving.
After we’d lived back in Michigan for a few years, I had my parent’s over for Thanksgiving, because they were in the midst of moving and didn’t have a refrigerator at the time. We were in the middle of the meal, and suddenly my dad said in astonishment, “Hey, Dawne. This stuffing is really good.” Who knew I had it in me?