Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that kind of gets lost in the hoopla that is pre-Christmas. We enjoy the day, the food, and the football, but then it’s on to Black Friday and the 20-some shopping days till Christmas. I am not, you understand, really complaining about this. The truth is that I like it. The other truth is that I miss the way Thanksgiving used to be. This is one of the ways I know I’m getting old, and that’s okay with me. I like old.

We used to go to my aunt’s house in Goshen, Indiana on Thanksgiving. I thought Aunt Nellie was rich because she had a whole second kitchen in her basement, complete with comfortable furniture and a wind-up Victrola with a whole stack of thick records. In the afternoon, after we’d eaten dinner, the men would sneak upstairs and smoke and watch television while the rest of us stayed in the basement with board games and old records until it was time to eat again. I don’t remember anything that was said, or even a lot of the people who were there, but I remember laughter flowing like music through the big basement, filling the concrete-walled expanse with warmth and comfort.

“What are you grateful for this year?” was always asked right before we started eating. We only had turkey once or twice a year and I’d have preferred my enjoyment of it not be interrupted, but the grownups didn’t really buy into that.

“Try this,” Mom would say as I filled my plate, forking a slice of the cranberry stuff that slides out of the can whole. “It’s good.”

“No, it’s not,” I’d say. And I wouldn’t have to try it. Ever. I could eat what I wanted.

No one went shopping on Thanksgiving afternoon because the stores were closed; if you ran out of something, you did without. If there was football on TV, I don’t remember it, because after watching Macy’s parade, I was off to the basement and the Victrola. And the food.

The food probably wasn’t all that healthy by today’s standards, but that was never mentioned. We just ate and at the end of the day, we took containers of leftovers home with us. As the youngest, I always sat in the middle of the back seat, where I would promptly fall asleep and tip over on the brothers who had the window seats. If they pushed me back and forth, I slept through it.

In retrospect—the older you get, the more retrospect there is floating around—I’m grateful for the warmth, the comfort, the laughter that still slips along my nerve endings as I remember Thanksgivings past. I’m grateful for memories of tinny music and tables groaningly full of succulent food. I’m thankful for the memory of Aunt Nellie, who served as the unwitting model for the heroine in Home to Singing Trees. She buried two men she loved and still continued to live every minute as though it were a precious gift.

Which all of our minutes are, and maybe that’s where our gratitude should begin.

Aunt Nellie wasn’t rich. Her house—and its most excellent basement—were small by today’s standards. But the moments spent and the memories generated there are the stuff of Hallmark commercials.

Thanksgivings in my family aren’t like they were then. There are too many of us, for one thing. For another, the demands of life, jobs, and school often make a full day of celebration an unreasonable expectation. For yet another, I don’t believe anything was as good in real time as it is in memory, which is yet another gift.

But I’ll be cooking this Thanksgiving, for whoever shows up. I’m taking two hours off work on Wednesday because there isn’t time to do it all on Thursday. That extra time has become a tradition all its own: making sure there are dollars in my pockets for the Salvation Army buckets when I do a last run-through at the grocery store, buying turkey bags because I’m not positive I have any—I always do, several boxes at the back of the cupboard. At home, I’ll make pies and brownies and not cook supper.

On Thursday, we’ll have turkey, mashed potatoes with tons of real butter and not a drop of two percent milk, and dressing I may or may not make from the box. No can of cranberry sauce will cross the threshold, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I asked my grandkids what they’re grateful for.

As often happens, I have reached the end of what I'm writing only to discover the beginning is wrong. Normally this means I mutter a lot, delete the first two paragraphs and with gusting sighs, start over again. Not this time.

All I was really wrong about was when I said I missed the way Thanksgivings used to be. I don’t. I am oh-so-grateful for the minutes and the memories those days were. But I’m just as thankful for all the blessed minutes we have now, and the memories that are made in those joyous pieces of time when laughter flows like music.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Till next time.

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