Friday, November 24, 2006

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love Thanksgiving. I love the food, the folksiness, the fun. Our family has its quirks and idiosyncrasies like any others. We've had our share of tragedies too. But even when there were tears amidst the laughter, nothing ever stopped us from jumping into this particular holiday with guts and gusto.

My mother hosted our huge blended family Thanksgiving dinner for many years. Then it was my turn. And I make a mean turkey dinner. I'm a late sleeper, but on those Thanksgiving mornings I hopped up early to put the turkey in the oven, assemble the secret ingredients for my famous stuffing, prepare the sweet potato pie (yes, with marshmallows), set the table with good china and silver, do all the little things that mothers and hostesses have always done. In my case never grudgingly, but with love, pride and anticipation.

I don't understand people who find Thanksgiving a chore or a burden. Some of our family's best memories and happiest times were at those groaning Thanksgiving dinner tables. Many captured on video, so we can watch how the kids grew year after year. And catch precious glimpses of those now gone.

One year we all went en masse to my younger sister's big house in Connecticut. Thanksgiving day was picture postcard perfect. Crisp and cold outside where the kids and the men, including our father, then in his 70's, played basketball and touch football and chopped piles of wood for the roaring fires.

Warm and delicious inside where three generations of women cooked and talked and teased and reminisced. Jumped for joy when our older sister's daughter, who had brought along her boyfriend, announced he'd proposed the night before ... in the hot tub.

My parents aren't well enough to manage the trip up from Florida in the cold any more. So some of us went there and the rest sent flowers and made phone calls. It's not the same, but life is what it is, and at least we were all together at our house for Rosh Hashanah this year. And we'll be together for Passover Seder next year, G-d willing.

Though in fact I like that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. There's no sense of "us" and "them." It's uniquely American, all about tradition and family.

And try though they may, the retail establishment hasn't managed to corrupt it with crass commercialism. Yes there's Black Friday, but that's good for the economy. Remember it's name refers to consumer shopping that can put retailers--including my husband--in the black for the year.

This Thanksgiving was particularly poignant for our family. My older sister's husband was killed in a plane crash in July. This is her first big holiday without him, tough to face, so she came in from LA to stay with her daughter and son-in-law (the ones who got engaged in the hot tub) and their two kids at the Jersey shore. My husband, son and I drove from Philly and back again through a vicious Nor'easter to join them for Thanksgiving.

It was so worth it. Since our son is grown and living on his own, no matter the pounding rain, those were precious hours in my niece's house and in the car, rich with quality time, talk, laughter, catching up.

And because my ten-year-old nephew still fights--and continues to triumph over--an even more vicious battle with cancer, it was a joy to watch him play with his adored older cousin, wrestle with his Dad and Uncle, share a new taste for stuffing and pumpkin pie with his younger sister, give his Aunt Sally hug after hug.

Even greater joy to see the happiness, pride and relief in his parents' and grandmother's eyes that he's made it to another holiday. And to feel the hope that he'll keep making it until it's his turn to move out into the world and come home for Thanksgiving.

I hope your loved ones made it home for Thanksgiving. And if any didn't, I send prayers and sincere wishes that you'll have something to give thanks for next year.



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