Wedged in-between Halloween and Christmas is my favorite day of the entire year – Thanksgiving. No, Thanksgiving doesn’t have the fun factor and pounds of treats Halloween brings and it sure can’t compete with the glamour and magic of Christmas, but that’s exactly why I love it. Smack dab in the middle of fall, when the weather tends to be a little dreary and our brains are so focused on those ‘must-have holiday gifts’ that have been advertised since August, there is this wonderful day that asks us only to take a moment and be grateful for what we have and who we have to share it with. Plus, you get to sit down and eat as much yummy fair as you possibly can without anyone batting an eye! And late afternoon naps are encouraged! You couldn’t ask for a more perfect holiday.
Growing up, I was lucky to have had what some people would call ‘Norman Rockwell’ Thanksgivings. The picture perfect turkey with all the trimmings and a house full of family that actually liked one another. As a kid I always looked forward to Thanksgiving Eve. Our family prepared the turkey on that night. I loved listening to my mother and grandma and aunts in the kitchen talking about old times while they chopped the celery and onions for the stuffing. But waking up Thanksgiving morning to the most fantastic smells drifting from the oven is my most precious memory. As soon as I took a whiff, I knew it was going to be a great day. Later in the afternoon the family would trickle in and it was always a day full of laughing and teasing and family stories and, of course, the best food on the planet. When the men gathered around the television set for the football game, the women and girls gathered up the dirty dishes. Don’t tell my mom, but I never minded being on kitchen clean-up that day. Then after most everything was cleaned up and put away, the leftovers bundled into aluminum foil or spooned into Tupperware the best part was still to come. The cans of cooked milk. Topped with Cool Whip, this strange family delicacy was the best way to end a day filled with lots of family, lots of food, and most importantly, lots of love.
These days I host Thanksgiving at my house. Although a much smaller event than the Thanksgivings I grew up enjoying, it is still a day filled with family, friends, food, and conversation. It’s the only time I don’t mind the tedious preparations, the endless chopping, or rolling so much pie dough it seems as if my countertops will never be rid of the flour coating them! After everyone stuffs themselves full of roasted turkey and giblet stuffing the men waddle off to the television for some all-American football. But now instead of huddling around a 25″consol in folding chairs, they lounge on leather sofas in front of a 65″ monstrosity. Later in the day there are still the pies to enjoy and lots of wine to be drunk and more reminiscing to be done. My kids spend their Thanksgiving laughing with their grandparents, getting teased by their uncle and hear all about the old days. A lot like my childhood Thanksgivings.
I skipped Thanksgiving one year. Actually skipped it. It had been a bad year and I was in a bad mood and I didn’t want to go to all the trouble. There were no mouth-watering scents filling my home that Thursday in November, no homemade pies cooling on my kitchen countertop. I didn’t even turn the Macy’s parade on. Instead my kids, husband and I volunteered at a retirement home for veterans. We met many heroes that day. We were privileged to talk to them and play cards with them and push their wheelchairs down the hallways. We heard stories about their families, and their Thanksgivings of long ago. We heard what it was like to have Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of a battlefield, on a ship thousands of miles from home, and in a military hospital. The residents were baffled why we were there and not having Thanksgiving dinner at our own home. My husband and kids were a little confused as well, but I insisted. I had forgotten what I was thankful for. That year was the best Thanksgiving I had ever had.
Next Thursday a similar scene will play out in homes all around our nation. We will gather together with those we love and share a meal that takes hours to prepare but only minutes to devour. We will remember the past and be hopeful for the future. But most of all, we will be thankful. Thankful for our families, thankful for our friends, thankful for our jobs and our homes and our health. Thankful for the amazing country we live in and to those who make it so we can be thankful not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every other day of the year. As for me, I’ll be thankful for all of the above plus one more little thing. I’m thankful no one but me likes to eat the cooked milk. I get the can all to myself!