Saturday, November 21, 2009
Weekend Wind-Down : : Thanksgiving Memories
Anne McAllister is not lying in a hammock like the PHS kitten this week. She's gearing up to cook Thanksgiving dinner with one hand come Thursday while she writes a book with her other hand. So life is not exactly restful and there's not much winding-down. But it's definitely one of her favorite times of the year.
I love Thanksgiving.
Other people are crazy about Christmas (and I like it, too, but sometimes I think it's too much of a good thing). Or they go all out for Valentine's Day. Or they celebrate another holiday in their own tradition and in their own country every year that means a lot to them.
For me, in the USA, it's Thanksgiving.
When I was a kid I wasn't so keen on it because it meant getting dressed up ("Why?" I used to say plaintively to my mother. "It's just family." And I still don't think there was a good answer to that except maybe we were supposed to be impressing each other) and going to my grandparents' house to spend the entire afternoon and evening with my grandfather's multitude of eccentric sisters.
There were good bits, though. There was fabulous food. There was the chance to play with cousins I didn't normally see. And there was my uncle George who always said the same things every year: "Who made the dressing? The dressing is soooo moist. Did you make the dressing, Minnie?" As the dressing was inside the turkey and my grandmother had made the turkey, it was pretty much a given who had made the dressing. And her name wasn't Minnie, either -- that was the name one of the cousins called the cow creamer pitcher. But on Thanksgiving it was my grandmother.
We always smiled about that. And now that I think about it, maybe that was the starting point of why I like the holiday so much.
It is what you make it.
It has the requisite good food, but the rest is up to you.
But the essence, I think -- and why I like it -- is that it's inclusive. It makes you a part of something bigger than yourself. It connects you -- to the past, to the future, and to the people around you that day.
There are traditions that have grown up in various places and parts of the country -- we have a Thanksgiving day Turkey Trot race and football game where I live -- and one of my boys has played football in it when he's come home. It reconnects him with people he doesn't see any other time. It connects him -- for now at least -- to people with a common goal, often people he doesn't even know.
There are similar connections on a national level. There's the Thanksgiving Day Parade and a couple of televised NFL football games. When my dad was living, those games were a big part of his day -- partly for the football, of course. But also because on another level, watching even from his own home, connected him with other people. They shared something. And the next time he played pool with his buddies, they talked turkey -- and football. He was connected.
I learned to love the eccentric great-aunts more when I had gone away to college and didn't get to see them at Thanksgiving. I found that I missed them. I remembered their stories, their eccentricities, their hip flasks -- and I understood later what I hadn't understood at the time -- the value of connection.
When we moved to Iowa and had no family nearby -- before I realized I was related to an entire county not so very far away -- our neighbors invited us to dinner. We didn't know them well yet, but the friendship grew out of that Thanksgiving. It made us feel at home. It connected us to our new home.
Over the years we've had so many people for Thanksgiving that I can't begin to remember them all. Embarrassingly, I invited someone last year who said she just loved coming to our house for Thanksgiving, and I didn't remember that she'd been with us before!
My only excuse is that I'm so often in the kitchen cooking that I barely seem to know who is there. I just know I'm glad they are.
As I cook that day, I will again be using my grandmother's recipes and I'll feel connected not just with the people who are coming for dinner but with her -- and with my aunt who made all the same recipes at Christmas, and my great-grandmother who did the same thing a hundred years ago.
I'll feel connected to Uncle George who is probably hassling "Minnie" up in heaven about the dressing. And I expect I'll even feel connected to the eccentric great-aunts who have provided me with many wonderful family stories, even if, in person, they were sometimes a little, er, challenging.
Someday I hope to have all my kids -- and the ever-increasing horde of grandkids -- around for Thanksgiving. Last year we Skyped with all of them. One of them even 'joined' us for dinner via Skype. It was a new sort of connection. A new way of connecting.
A new tradition, maybe? I don't know. I just know I'm looking forward to it.
What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday? Particular traditions you relish every year? What are they and why are they special to you?
When she's not messing with cranberries and stuffing birds, Anne is working on her latest Savas family book for Presents. The most recent one, One-Night Mistress ... Convenient Wife is a November release both in UK and US. You can read an excerpt on her website.