Thanksgiving

November 27, 2010 at 7:33 am 4 comments

If I had to pick a favorite holiday in the year, it would be Thanksgiving. As an adult, I like the sincerity of it. The lack of advertising-skewed priorities. The quiet days off. The unadulterated meaning:  to simply give thanks.

As a kid, the appeal was a little different. Thanksgiving was the annual mega-gathering of my Dad’s side of the family. Thirty to forty people, with more than half of that crowd the funny, cool playmates called cousins. It was the one time of year that we all saw each other. And it was a big, loud, boisterous day. Hug lines forming as each new relative came in the front door. Food lines forming for dinner as we navigated around the kitchen buffet style and, with our well-laden plates, wandered to one of many tables set up around the house. And, of course, the well-worn lines of family jokes to make us giggle again and again. It was a day filled with story-telling, catching up, practical jokes, skits, live music, dancing, cards games, ping pong, and more.

I find it impossible to recall a single Thanksgiving. Rather all the years exist as a jumbled blur of all of these things, a constant whir of voices and laughter and tradition, punctuated by individual memories:  Aunt Margie’s perfect green beans with bacon; Aunt Ann’s chocolate maple brownies; Grandma’s stuffing served in a great big cooker by ice cream scoop; listening to grandma and my dad and his brothers and sisters tell stories of their growing up; the year we hung underwear on Aunt Theresa’s car; the year Denny, Joel, and Tommy were missing for military duty; the year that Johnny, Denny, and Tommy mooned and took pictures on my unattended, undigital camera; the year(s) we oohed and awed over the arrival of the great-grandchildren; the time Uncle Tom sat in front of Aunt Marie and poured gravy on the angel food cake she’d made and ate it without saying a word as she spluttered and we all played along as if this were a perfectly normal way to eat angel food cake.

This mush of memories means that sometimes Thanksgiving includes time spent throwing a football out in the street without coats on as well as the adventure of battling treacherous snow and ice to arrive in time. It means that Thanksgiving includes the entire family all at once, whether they attended each year or not. It also means that Thanksgiving includes everybody, including the dear ones we have since said good-bye to.

My sentimental side yearns for a time machine for just one more chance to gather on Thanksgiving, to hug each one coming through the door. To hear Uncle John’s laugh. To see Grandma’s eyes mist up as she tells about the day she met her Oscar. To hear Aunt Marie describe her most recent recipe in complete detail. To pull up in front of that big house and know that both Aunt Pat and Uncle Tom would be there to greet me. To set up Uncle Joe with a “How are you?” so that he could grab someone’s butt and say, “Ah, I’ve been feeling bum all day.” Even, yes, to help wash the dishes after 30-40 people had snacked, dined, and had dessert.

In the looking back, my heart aches. And the feelings of loss are nearly unbearable.

But.

That is Life. As we get older—if we were lucky enough to be part of a big loving family—we must say a lot of good-byes. And Life does go on if we remember to be thankful for the big loving family part. And to balance the sadness of good-bye with the happiness of saying hello to new spouses, new babies. To understand that change isn’t always bad. And to realize that the Thanksgiving dinner tables, which used to sit in dining room, living room, family room, basement, and den of one house are simply a bit farther apart in homes in Pennsylvania, in Virginia, in Utah, in Colorado, in New Jersey.

I know that, at each of those tables, the traditions go on. The last name is handed down. Someone is still making perfect mashed potatoes. That smell of turkey still permeates the air. A sincere prayer is said. The tales of Anna and Oscar and their offspring are told. And the laughter rolls.

Tradition is one of the ultimate life preservers. But its magic lies not in tedious, unchanging repetition. The magic is in the oral history that tells us where we came from, in the people we learned to admire, in the activities that teach us what’s important and what’s to be forgiven, in the honoring of father and mother, in the joy of children, in the preservation of values, in the sacred knowledge of unconditional love.

So today, as I have a slice of my Mom’s pumpkin pie for breakfast, as I enjoy the break from my adult responsibilities, as I find a little time to reflect on more than chores to be done and deadlines to be met and the accumulation of failures and disappointments that can make us doubt who we are, I see clearly, above all, the blessing of being a granddaughter of Anna and Oscar. And I give thanks for my place in the world as daughter, sister, niece, cousin, and aunt.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

Entry filed under: Life Preservers. Tags: , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lori Runzo  |  November 29, 2010 at 5:34 am

    I think this was my favorite one ever, and not just because I remember all those things, too! Love ya cuz!

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    Reply
  • 3. mel  |  December 1, 2010 at 3:10 am

    You described that so well, I felt as if I were there–while simultaneously in attendance in all the co-mingled Thanksgiving celebrations of my own family, as well. Thank you for this poignant, truthful piece. Enjoyed it.

    Like

    Reply
  • 4. Dennis Curcio  |  December 1, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Hey Cuz, thanks for the COOL trip down Memory Lane. Your writing is a gift that is unwrapped with the eyes and enjoyed by the mind. Thanks again-much love and keep smile’n!

    Like

    Reply

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