As it is Wednesday before Thanksgiving I thought I would cast aside my doom and gloom postings that I’ve been having lately and focus on fun and giving thanks. And in by doing so I want to look back on a few Thanksgivings.
The Early Thanksgivings
Growing up in Nebraska for the short time that I did I very distinctly remember holidays. They were split between my grandparents’ homes, Thanksgiving at Grandma A’s house meant Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa’s house asn that switched every year. Grandma A’s house was a little white house that had two bedrooms and an attic that was scary and fun. The front porch was pretty empty since the door that every entered through was the enclosed back porch. I found out later that the porch and the bathroom where added at some point after my Dad was a kid. Its hard to imagine that my Dad had an outhouse. Anyways, my Dad’s family is on the bigger side, seven boys and one girl, my Dad is the youngest. When we still lived in the town that my Dad was born in (and we were born there too) I had a few uncles and their families who lived in the same small town. But come the holidays pretty much everyone came home. I remember Grandma's long drive way being jam packed with cars as people drove in from other places and my cousins, being significantly older than me, had their cars too. What that house must have looked like from the road, teeming with people.
In the house crammed Uncle Verne, Aunt Marilyn, their boys Greg and Brad; Uncle Von and Aunt Gwen and their kids Holly, Heidi and Heath, Aunt Maryann and Uncle Dave from Lincoln with their daughters Kelly and Lori; Uncle Richard and Aunt Bobbie also from Lincoln with their daughters Angie and Joni; Uncle Joyce and Aunt Laura rarely made it out to the eastern part of the state for the holidays but when they did they brought their boys Mark, Steve and Danny. Uncle Gale and Aunt Adell would drive down from Minnesota a few years and bring with them Chad, Todd and Ryan. Then Uncle Gary and Aunt Jan would drive down from Omaha with Trevor and Shannon. Add in our family of five and that brought the grand total to 38 people all crammed into a little white house on the other side of the train tracks.
Growing up everyone smoked because it was the 80s and that’s what everyone did. I remember a vast majority of the adults would be on the little porch where it would be cold since it wasn’t insolated but ventilated for the smokers. Everyone brought a dish and the dining room table would be covered in a smorgasbord of food. When the food was ready Grandma A, decked out in her holiday polyester pants and sweat, would gruffly tell everyone to “come and eat.” My aunts would sing the Doxology with a few kids joining in and the men shuffling their feet and my Mom would inevitably harmonize because she can’t stop herself. Then it was men first and then kids and then the women to fill their plates. Card tables were set up where there was room and if you got a seat you must be higher up on the ladder than others. I remember eating on the floor at the coffee table with my middle sister a lot. Writing this now I can smell the bread baking and heard the floor boards creak with the weight of rambunctious kids. I can hear the different conversations and smell the smoke that would waft in from the porch. I hear my Mom’s voice telling a story (she’s a good story teller) and the laughter above all else.
We say that my Dad’s family isn’t very communicative or demonstrative in their love, which is true. But these memories I hold dear to me because they are the foundation of my Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re surrounded by family or those you call family.
A Sunny Thanksgiving
The first Thanksgiving in Phoenix was hard for my parents I think. I was nine and as long as I was with my family I guess I didn't know any better. But my mom missed her parents and I think my dad missed his family and I think that void was felt by everyone, even Muffie our family dog. My Mom tried hard to make the day festive, even when I know her heart wasn’t in it. To add to the lack of family, the weather didn’t help much. It was in the upper 70s making the sweaters that we would have normally worn with turtle necks and corduroys stifling. We had our turkey dinner on a picnic table in our back yard under the one sad little tree and the blazing sun. My middle sister and I made pilgrim bibs for everyone to wear, God bless us, even Dad wore one. This was the year of that Mom was attacked by the Indians (she walked into a tree branch and it scratched her face). It also started the tradition of calling home for the holidays.
This year it will be 80 degrees for Thanksgiving Day. Its hard to get in the holiday mood for so many when its vacation weather. But honestly, while I have great memories of Thanksgiving in Nebraska, this is how Thanksvgiving is for me. Shorts and flip flops and turkey and stuffing, they all go hand in hand. I've had Thanksgiving in Nebraska as an adult and while it was toasty and warm, it wasn't better. I was still with family and we still ate way too much and laughed too loudly and planned our Black Friday shopping.
The Next Level
As the years went on, my family created our own traditions and our own sense of Thanksgiving sans snow and chilly weather. Once Juanito and I started dating, seriously, that meant combining holidays. It was at this point many many years ago that I said I will spend Thanksgiving with your family as long as I get Christmas morning with my family. I didn’t know that I set precedence for years and years to come. So Thanksgiving of 2002 was spent with my future in-laws. It was strange to say the least. There weren’t mounds of food that my Mom always prepares even when they say the budget won’t allow it. There wasn’t the constant noise of kids and the hustle and bustle of people and dogs and comings and goings and animated conversations and football games turned up so that someone can hear it over the noise. It was just us, my in-laws and my sister in law and her boyfriend at the time. It was calm and quiet and just different. There was no turkey, instead like a turkey roll. There weren’t enough of us to warrant a full turkey I guess. The TV was turned off and music was played and wine was served, but we were all in relaxed clothes, nothing dressy or fancy. I was so on edge being with his family that I didn’t appreciate it until I went back to my parent’s house the next day and the majority of the family was still there being loud and running amok. I realized that constant commotion is not necessarily part of Thanksgiving. And while it might make it fun, so does giving your future mother in law too much wine ‘cuz it makes her silly.
So where ever you are this Thanksgiving, stuck in a too small house with too much family, or braving your new traditions or getting drunk with your family, may you be surrounded by love and thankful for your surroundings.