In my family, Thanksgiving has always been an Event, with a capital E. We all love to eat, and any excuse is good enough for a meal, but this meal was always special. Relatives came in from out of town. We needed at least three ovens to complete everything on time. Extra leaves were added to the table, and extra chairs pulled out of storage.
My mother has Thanksgiving down to a science. With at least a dozen and as many as 18 people to feed any given year, she has figured out how to get everything hot and ready and on the table at the same time, which is a pretty monumental feat. My sister and I have helped since we were old enough to stir a bowl of pumpkin pie filling or squish a ball of dough into something roughly resembling a roll. We do just about everything from scratch.
We have our traditional foods, too, as every family does. For us, it was always my Granny’s Southern-style corn bread dressing, which I still insist on having every year—even if I’m the only one who eats it! There’s mince pie as a special treat for my uncle. And until she passed, my Granny made green Jello with canned pear halves topped with little mounds of creamed cheese and walnuts and topped with a maraschino cherry. Though, God only knows why.
And of course, I love it all. I don’t cook that corn bread dressing at any other time of year. Making rolls always reminds me of my mother. And I can’t make a pumpkin pie without envisioning my sister doing the same in my mom’s kitchen—at age 5 or 15.
But it’s more than that. For me, Thanksgiving was always about family. It was about aunts and uncles and cousins we might only see a few times a year. It was about curling up at my Poppy’s feet trying to understand what was so damned engrossing about the “Cowboys game.” It was about the hustle and bustle and love and pride I felt at helping my mom pull it all off.
Without really knowing it, it was about being thankful for my family.
This year, Thanksgiving is bittersweet for me. My grandfather, my Poppy, passed last month after a long battle with esophageal cancer. He was 93, and had led an astounding life, but that didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.All my life, he was the patriarch of our family. I grew up blessed to live just a few miles from my dad’s parents, and so he and my Granny were an integral part of my life growing up. I inherited my high forehead and my gusto for food from him.
Lord, that man loved to eat! He took so much pleasure in a good plate of food, and both my Granny and my mom were/are excellent cooks. But as a terrible irony, the treatment for the disease that eventually took his life first took his ability to enjoy food. First, the cancer made it difficult to swallow, and then the treatments for said cancer took his sense of taste. In the past three years, one of the most striking changes I saw in him was his inability to enjoy his food as he once did.
And, it is with a heavy heart that I have realized that I have eaten my last Thanksgiving dinner at his house—though I think I’ll always feel him with me when I sit down to watch the Cowboys play.
My dad is fighting leukemia, as well, and so my parents aren’t hosting any celebration this year. I’ll be baking my own rolls, mixing up my own pie (and leaving out the weird Jello). I’ll have new friends and family (my in-laws—7 years still counts as new, right??) to laugh and enjoy with.
And with every turn of the bowl, every forkful of food, the taste of every memory, I’ll be saying thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the traditions. Thank you for the times passed. Thank you for the new memories yet to come.