Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Maybe it has something to do with the emphasis on food and family and gratitude. We gather, we give thanks, we eat comfort foods, we nap, we watch football, we eat some more. What could be better than that?This year my sister-in-law, Oma Carnahan, (one of the best cooks I’ve ever known), won’t be with us. She was 89 and looking forward to her 90th birthday, but it didn’t happen. Still, we’ll have 30-40 people–the number fluctuates until the last minute.
Joining us at the table (actually, several tables), are relatives, old friends, new friends, and people whose accents tell you they’ve not traditionally celebrated this holiday. And there are children, bounding about the house each noticeably older than the year before, and dogs, who are quite thankful for the bits of trimmed turkey tossed their way.
Our family has Thanksgiving traditions that run several generations deep. In addition to relatives, we often invite friends who are unable to be with their own folks for the holidays. When it’s time to line up for the buffet, we go in order by age—the oldest first. Back in the early 50s, when I joined this family, I was way down at the end of the line; now I’ve worked my way to the head. Age has its benefits.
Before eating, we assemble around the fireplace and join hands to sing the Doxology (you know the hymn, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”). Sadly, our best singers and pianist are no longer with us, so we may have to forego music this year. Following the prayer, guests shuffle about trying to determine just where their age places them in the buffet line. I have 40 oversized plates, that I got many years ago from a restaurant supply and take from the cabinet only on Thanksgiving Day. In recent years, I’ve made a concession to using sturdy, plastic cups.
In my job as General Coordinator of Turkey Day, I make food assignments, fret over the possibility of bad weather, lack of refrigerator space, and bedroom allocation. The menu is pretty much the same each year. The turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy are prepared at the farm, while side dishes and desserts are brought by guests. As usual, there’ll be sweet potato casserole, cheese grits, homemade rolls, cooked greens, eggplant, cranberry chutney, broccoli casserole, green beans and corn pudding.
Desserts will include pecan, apple, and pumpkin pie (Drats! I forgot to assign a sweet potato pie), and carrot cake with real whipped cream for toppings. Amazingly, the mountain of dirty dishes disappears at the end of the meal, when a swarm of “elves” descends on the kitchen, leaving me the opportunity to visit with guests or play with the kids.
This all sounds very smooth in the re-telling, but there are often “wrinkles” that occur, caused by some untimely happening in the kitchen or among guests—things typical to family gatherings. So if you’re in charge of Thanksgiving this year remember you’re making memories, not just mashed potatoes. You’re forging bonds, not just carving turkey. The little mishaps will be forgotten or laughed about in years to come. Your time of togetherness is worth far more than a perfectly roasted turkey. Perhaps our family’s emphasis on Thanksgiving is genetic. My husband’s for-bearers were among the Puritans of New England and mine ate with the Indians at Jamestown—even married them. Whether your family is celebrating the historic holiday for the first time, or for as long as you can remember, the sentiments of gratitude, caring and sharing are a part of who we are as Americans… and always will be.