The only Thanksgiving element I absolutely cannot do without is family. For me, Thanksgiving is synonymous with loud, boisterous, prank-pulling, bowl-dropping, too-many-in-too-small-a-space, story-telling, story-denying, over-hugging, over-cologned, and occasionally under-showered, family.
As one of nine children, I remember Thanksgiving as the one day of the year we hosted both sets of grandparents (we’ll call them the Ungers and the Maddisons), and one or two relatives whose branches we never quite located on the family tree but were always called Uncle and Ginny. The uncles changed nearly every year. I remember one who was particularly fond of loading chips into his big floppy fishing cap and walking around offering chips to everyone. Never saw anyone but him take from that cap.
…Plus a Saint Bernard and small black mutt with the heart of a lion and teeth of a piranha. And when they both went to puppy heaven, two dogs stepped in to take their place. Always two dogs.
We’re not talking a Norman Rockwell painting here. We’re talking at least one child lying under the living room coffee table with a stomach ache after downing a jar of pickles, another with peas stuck in her nose (you thought I forgot, huh sis?), the always proper Nana going through at least five martinis while Dad played endless pranks trying to get her to swear at him (he always got at least one good shriek out of her—usually involving Pop Rocks or a plastic spider frozen into an ice cube), Grandma doing her best to look unfazed by the chaos but not fooling anyone, and Grampa being the only one of the elders truly having a good time…because he sat in the rocking chair the entire time with his hearing aid off.
There was always a roaring fire in the fireplace, with one or two soot-smudged older boys piling on way too much wood or sword fighting with the pokers. They must fight stealthily to avoid stepping on the Saint Bernard’s massive form splayed in front of the fire, or the youngest siblings who are using him as a pillow. The little dog, for some strange reason, thinks the safest place would be at Mom’s feet. Every so often we’d hear a yelp and a “Someone get this damned dog out of here!” (Sorry about the language, but that was typical Thanksgiving Day vernacular, if not from Mom, then from Nana when Dad finally scored.)
And the rest of us? Let’s just say my Mama didn’t raise any quiet children. By the time we were all seated around the two or three tables, we’d already run up and down the stairs 50 times, played 20 rounds of HORSE at the frozen basketball hoop outside, consumed all the olives (after chasing each other through the house with scary olive fingers, of course) and all the chips, pickles, and anything out of Mom’s slotted spoon range. (Mom was deadly accurate with a slotted spoon.) Frankly, we sat because we were tired. Mom, too, come to think of it.
Here’s where I have to give props to Mom. I don’t remember helping her with Thanksgiving dinner. I honestly don’t. I know for certain the boys didn’t. I do remember the flour on her cheeks and hands, the strand of curly hair that always fell across her face when the steam hit it, and the mounds and mounds of delicious food she put on the table. Every year the feast was fabulous and perfectly cooked, all timed just right and served hot. Pies for days, and gravy the likes of which I’ve not tasted since. If I could send a message to her now in Heaven, it would be, “Mom, I didn’t know. I’m sorry, and I’m amazed, truly.”
Fast forward 40 years to a quieter time. Much quieter. Thanksgiving means so much more to me now, but my family is so much less chaotic. Funny, I only really miss the chaos on Thanksgiving. My siblings all have families of their own, and we live in five different states, so reenactment is highly unlikely, although, combined I think we own a zoo’s worth of dogs and cats.
To make up for the quiet, and to maximize the joy we feel for this day, my husband and I spend every Thanksgiving in a huge Cabin in Prince William Forest Park with about 70 of our closest friends, primarily our church family and their guests. They won’t run around with peas in their noses or olives on their fingers, nobody will be tripping on dogs (although I hear we may have an Australian Shepherd on site tomorrow who’s also an Afghanistan war veteran, so there’s potential), and everyone will behave, I’m sure.
But I’m bringing Pop Rocks, just in case.
Wishing everyone a fantastic Thanksgiving, and praying a grateful thank you to the men and women in uniform, both military around the world and our first responders at home, who will be on duty while we celebrate. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. — 1 Tim 4:4-5