The Thanksgiving table where we all gather next week is a complicated one of family, guilt, tradition, and turkey.
We are taught in school that the holiday is about the Pilgrims celebrating with the indigenous tribe that helped them survive and grow up to learn that the story is a bit more nuanced. Native Americans view the holiday now as a day of mourning.
Perhaps, as a child, you went to the home of a grandparent or uncle or experienced the stressful thrill of family scrambling to set up The Big Meal at your own house (“Where’s the leaf in the table? Are the potatoes peeled? Who is that arriving early? Will someone get this dog out of the kitchen?”).
You sat with cousins at the children’s table, endured sloppy kisses from far-flung aunts and uncles (“You’ve grown so big, Susan!” “Um, I’m Jennifer.”), listened to the grownups reminiscing about past exploits — that time your older cousins snuck into Woodstock, your uncles squabbling over who was telling an old story right, the surprising revelation that your father used to jump on trains and ride them all the way into Boston.
There were football games. Your father, your uncles and some of the teenage cousins tried to show their stuff in the yard, followed by groans and snores in front of the college games on the TV.
That’s the Thanksgiving ideal, the one that evolves so slowly you don’t see the changes until the big ones hit. Marriages, new babies, holidays split between families grow and shrink the crowd. The children become the adults, grandparents fade into memory, parents… well, they become the elders.
I don’t feel old enough to be hosting Thanksgiving, yet it’s been my responsibility for a decade. With my only brother down in Texas, my father’s brothers all passed, my parents — and Thanksgiving — are now my responsibility.
I’m canceling the turkey this year and making chicken parm. My small children are now in their 20s. But I can still predict this year’s Thanksgiving: we’ll eat too much. My mother will once again tell the story of introducing baby me to my father the day he returned from Vietnam. We’ll talk about past pets and tell the same stories we always have… because they’re the only ones my mother remembers.
It’s Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for my husband and children, that my parents are here to celebrate with us, and the memories that linger around our table. May the ones around yours be as happy.