The turkey is deboned, the china back in its place, and pie crumbs swept away. Our family celebrates Thanksgiving as a small affair, just the four of us. We dress for the meal, talk and eat, share what we are thankful for, and stare across the family table at the ones we love and sometimes love to hate.
Family. Family is what Thanksgiving always meant to me. Our feasts included both sides of the family when I was very young, and later, was spent with my mother’s side of the family. There was no traditional annual fare, no particular time of sharing, no special game to play. Just family.
So in 1988, when several family members were unable to meet, we just sort of canceled Thanksgiving. It wasn’t mortifying. I wasn’t scarred, sent into a spiraling hole of dark depression. We just agreed not to meet.
Then, schedules were unexpectedly revamped, and Thanksgiving was back on again. I asked the guy I was dating if he would like to go to my family’s house for Thanksgiving. His family was meeting at his grandparents’ house with his brother and parents and his all male cousins. I think it was an easy decision for him, to be honest.
We pulled up to the house, cars lined in the large, grassy yard. “Hello! Come in,” everyone called as we walked in the front door.
I was hugged, the young man introduced, and the family “catching up” commenced. It went well. The usual stragglers came in fifteen minutes late and we gathered round the long table to pray. Then everyone took a seat and started passing the food: green beans, salad, apple sauce, pasta salad, and sloppy joes. Store bought pumpkin pie finished it off.
On the ride back home, the young man asked if that was a regular Thanksgiving for my family.
“Pretty much. Why?”
“Don’t you have turkey? Or mashed potatoes and gravy? . . . Maybe lima beans?”
I’m pretty sure his voice quivered.
“Uh, well, yeah, usually. But not limas. It’s just that we weren’t planning to have Thanksgiving this year so it was a sort of last minute thing. There wasn’t time for a turkey and all the trimmings.”
Poor guy. It was his first time to miss Thanksgiving with his family and it was NOT what he had expected. He had given up his traditions: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, limas, and . . . blackberry pie. Homemade blackberry pie. His grandmother’s homemade blackberry pie.
I pulled him back from the precipice.
Life went on for both of us. In fact, life went on together for both of us. So I guess it wasn’t the end of the world, which is the way he tells it.
He has never missed turkey, potatoes and gravy, or limas since. I have made sure of it. His Thanksgiving always includes a blackberry pie. Yes, homemade. We even have cranberry sauce, even though no one else in the family likes it.
Because this is our tradition.
Today as I sat at the table surrounded by my children, eating the same meal we have every year, I realized that my family Thanksgiving and that young man’s Thanksgiving have merged into a new tradition. One where we treasure each other’s company above our own wish for a particular celebration.
Sloppy Joes may not be what you expect for Thanksgiving, but like that first ramshackle Thanksgiving meal four hundred years ago, they bonded us together forever.
May you find your own traditions to bind you to those you love.