he Thanksgiving holiday makes people slow down. This is a good thing because, in New England, there are so many things to worry about in late autumn with winter and the holidays drawing closer and most of us hurrying to get ready.
Then, all of a sudden, the leaves are off the trees, lawns have turned brown and the phones start to ring. Families that are spread out all over the country start talking to each other again to organize the annual holiday reunion. One of the most important decisions that has to be made is where the festivities are to occur. As people and times change so does the location of the Thanksgiving feast. When I was young I remember driving north from Long Island to celebrate the holidays with friends and family who lived in New Hampshire.
Back then I had no clue that I would one day call northern New England my home. I remember there were multiple old aunts and uncles who always sat at the head table and I had no idea who they all were. My parents would introduce them and I would forget their names as soon I was told them. Being a kid I would sit with the other kids in the other room, eating at a card table that was used throughout the rest of the year to play poker or Parcheesi.
Then, a few years later, a strange thing happened because everyone we had visited during past Thanksgivings started to come to our home. Relatives from all over the country came to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. One thing that didn’t change was that me and the other kids were once again relegated to sit at the card table just outside the main dining room. At the time I didn’t mind because I had little interest in the politics of the day that were discussed by the grown-ups and I could keep my elbows on the table without being asked if I remembered my manners by some relative whose name I couldn’t remember.
College, marriage, and the acquisition of a whole new family meant I had to get used to a whole new Thanksgiving tradition. My father and mother relinquished the task of hosting the annual Thanksgiving feast and started to visit the families of my sisters and brothers. A few times my wife and I joined them by driving down to New York but this trip never became a holiday tradition because my wife’s family was much closer to home and it did not take much to convince us to enjoy Thanksgiving with them. Plus I have little love of driving and no sense of direction. As regular readers of this column will testify, I get lost driving to the supermarket for a loaf of bread.
My sister-in-law became the focal point of our Thanksgiving holiday because she lived in the biggest house. I used to enjoy sitting on the beautifully decorated stairs watching my family and friends set up the Thanksgiving feast. All of the women in the family did something or made something. My favorite was the green bean and mushroom casserole I used to try and sit near so I could scoop out portion after portion without bothering the rest of the family. The men in the family did little to make the holiday a success.
Every now and then one of us would be asked to move this table here or these chairs there but other than that we were just required to sit around the television, watching football and drinking beer. When the Thanksgiving turkey was ready to be placed at the center of the main table my brother-in-law had the task of carving the bird with what was supposed to be the newest of electric turkey carvers. After a few failed attempts at slicing the bird he always pulled out his faithful carving knife and completed the job. This tradition went on for years until the electric turkey carver broke and was thrown out.
The older one gets the more it seems there is some sort of grand design in place, bringing families together to share their growth and prosperity. Over the years the Thanksgiving feast has brought more branches of the family together than any other single celebration. In fact, my mother and father, and now my brother and his family, has joined the celebration for what has become a very large event. This year the number having dinner under the same roof will surpass 40 people, including not only family but also good friends joining in what has become a gigantic feast with multiple turkeys and countless casserole dishes filled with my favorite green bean and mushroom side dish.
I have also taken to leaving my perch on the stairs to wander around talking to people, catching up on family news, hearing about their triumphs and misfortunes, their dreams and aspirations. Our own daughter has only grown in beauty and no longer fights to sit next to her favorite man of the moment but seems content to sit anywhere and to enjoy the greater love that surrounds us all at this time of year. My wife and her sisters have been promoted to head chefs while their spouses occupy the couches in front of the big screen TV, talking about politics, their plans for the future and what vacation plans they have made to escape the winter cold when it inevitably gets here.
The children of Thanksgiving past have grown up and now have families of their own, with children who sit at the card tables that are set up in the room next to the dining room. Last year, shortly before dinner was to be served I sat on a folding chair at the children’s table and reminisced about the times when baseball was the most important thing in my life. My young audience listened patiently until a niece came up to me, told me I was sitting in her chair and my place was with the adults. I apologized and left feeling just a little bit sad because the card table wasn’t just the place where the kids sat – it was also a place that represented a much simpler, more innocent time in my life.
It is a good thing that the Thanksgiving holiday makes people slow down, if just for a day because it gives us time to remember the past, to be with the people we care about and to remember the things that matter. The past grows dimmer with every passing year and we are reminded to enjoy the important times of our present. We also have time to look to the future though it might scare us a bit more with every Thanksgiving celebration that passes.
Thanksgiving makes the onset of winter more bearable because it gives us an opportunity to fill up on good times and family memories that will warm us through the Christmas season and into the arrival of spring.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
Thanksgiving holiday: A time to fill up on warm memories
by J. G. Fabiano.
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org