Thanks + Giving

I love Thanksgiving, not only for the holiday itself, but for what it means to me. Each year as the holidays roll around, I always go back in my mind to how things were when I was growing up. All the holidays were reasons to be with family, have a beautiful meal together, tell old and new stories, and to enjoy that precious bubble in time where all is well with everyone. It was as if any problems, issues, worries–all were put on hold for that day of gratitude.

My grandmother, Dad’s mother, loved the holidays and prepared lavishly for them. All food was prepared from scratch–every woman in my family felt you couldn’t rightly call yourself a wife or mother if you couldn’t cook, bake, preserve or pickle. Thanksgiving dinner meant a luscious turkey with crackling brown skin, bursting with delicious stuffing full of onions, celery, and plenty of sage. There were roasted potatoes gleaming with butter, homemade turkey gravy, savory boiled onions, a relish plate of cheese-stuffed celery and olives, homemade cranberry sauce and freshly-made Parker House rolls. Dessert was a choice of pumpkin or apple pie–or both.

When the meal was over, and while all the adults sat around the table drinking coffee, cracking nuts and talking, I would go to the parlor and sit dreamily on the window seat and look out at the snow (I always remember snow on Thanksgiving day). It was fun to look forward  to Christmas and wonder if there was anyone in the world as happy as me.

I believe that most families in our country enjoy getting together for Thanksgiving for many reasons. It reminds us that we were once strangers in a strange land, and that we had to start fresh to make our own way. It took back-breaking work and determination to get this fledgling country started. Families and neighbors had to help and depend on each other. There was also the kindness of strangers as well–our history tells us of the original inhabitants, the Indians, helping us to grow food, make shelters and so much more. I like to think that the first Thanksgiving was one of mutual respect and an unspoken agreement to lay doubts and worries aside for one meal together.

Thanksgiving is also a day to remember that, despite our differences and long-held prejudices, we can agree to meet and break bread together. It is a time to think hard on all things for which we are grateful. Whether we sit down to turkey or lasagna or kung pao beef or venison or moussaka or veggie burgers or fried chicken fingers or clam chowder–the food doesn’t matter as much as the people around the table do. It’s a time to be grateful, peaceful, joyous and happy. Even if you are alone for Thanksgiving, the feelings of gratitude and joy are warmth to the soul. As long as we have memories, we aren’t alone. People enter and leave our lives continually, and we recognize that this is part of life. Thanksgiving is a time to just be glad in each others company or just be content with our own thoughts and memories.

I remember a story I read a long time ago about a bus full of people who were stranded on Thanksgiving day. A heavy snowstorm had come out of nowhere, and the bus broke down. At that time, there were no cell phones, only the driver’s CB radio. The driver called for help, and was told that help would come, but not for hours. The bus was nearly out of gas and everyone was cold, angry and hungry. Everyone complained about missing dinner with family, and tempers were short. However, things changed quickly when a little girl traveling with her mother announced, “I have an orange I can share.”

Suddenly everyone started going through their luggage and handbags. A burly man with a deep Southern accent said, “I have a jar of my mama’s pickles!” An older woman with an orange knitted hat with a huge pom-pom said that she had three dozen chocolate chip cookies she brought for her grandsons, but she said, “those little pigs eat too much anyway. Pass them around!” Two teenage boys wearing sweatshirts shouted, “We have two six-packs of Coke!” A man and his wife smiled and passed around a big bag of walnuts and raisins, an old man opened a bag of apples, and the bus driver produced two big sub sandwiches, which he cut up to share.

More food was produced, and it seemed as if the bounty would never end. Everyone chatted with each other, and then someone started singing Christmas carols. The rest joined in, and by the time the tow-truck arrived, the mood in the bus was happy and festive. People began thanking each other and started rounding up all the empty bottles and containers.  Eventually everyone got to their destinations, late but happy.

At one time or other, haven’t we have all been stranded somewhere in some way, alone and afraid, missing family and friends and longing to be anywhere but where we fetched up? This is what Thanksgiving means; it is both thanks and giving. Even though we only celebrate it once a year, thanks should be given each day of the year. Once we get in the habit of giving thanks, we began to realize how much there is to be thankful for. And isn’t it a good habit to keep every day of the year?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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