Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving over the years

On this Monday of Thanksgiving week, my thoughts are fixed on the week's worth of work that must be done in three days at the office. With a little extra effort and wise use of time, I should be able to handle that challenge.

Getting Thursday and Friday off, and enjoying the presence of my children and six grandchildren will make the early week rush worthwhile. Our younger daughter has agreed to host the gathering of extended family at her home in Greenville — a site farther east than any of the alternatives, but her home is spacious and can handle the cacophony whirling, laughing, running cousins, all under age 10.

Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday, despite a dearth of celebration when I was growing up. The textile mill where my mother worked did not close for Thanksgiving, which meant that she worked and we children fended for ourselves throughout the Thursday off from school. If the weather was clear and mild, I would head into the woods to explore and pretend, lost in nature and the refreshing, soothing impact of seasonal change, which I did not yet truly appreciate.

The first Thanksgiving after we married, my wife exposed me to her family Thanksgiving tradition, a welcoming of aunts, uncles and cousins into the modest house by the lake. Only five months earlier, her mother had died unexpectedly in that house, still in her forties, never to enjoy her grandchildren or see her children graduate college or (except for the one I stole away too early) marry.

It fell upon my bride, just 19, to preside over the small kitchen, to cook the turkey, to arrange the table, to serve as hostess for more than a dozen guests. My admiration of her capabilities and skills, already high, rose higher as the day progressed. She substituted marvelously for the woman whose absence was so much on her mind. She was determined to live up to her mother's example, and she did so brilliantly.

In 42 Thanksgivings since then, we have often hosted dinner for family — and occasionally, friends — and each time she has provided the welcome and the sustenance everyone needed. A photo album she pulled out over the weekend chronicles the holidays. The first photos are of that first Thanksgiving, in black-and-white. More recent color photos remind us of other Thanksgivings at the lake house or in homes we claimed for a few years or many, with a changing cast of relatives but usually including my parents or hers. One slightly forlorn year, our crowd was only four — our two children still at home and ourselves — but we dressed up and cooked as if for a crowd

This year, we will not be hosts, but we will preside, in a sense, as patriarch and matriarch of the gathering — a reminder that we are older, substantially so, than our parents were at that first Thanksgiving after our wedding. "All of life's a circle," and we are spinning rapidly toward the next phase of the cycle.

Of all the things I have to be thankful for, memories of a life together are among the best.

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