Thanksgiving time has always been very traditional for our family. Since we lived in a different state from either family of origin, we alternated between Thanksgiving with my family in Tennessee and Steve’s family in Indiana.
Mother loved feeding guests, and the less likely they were to pay her back, the better. She took seriously Christ’s admonition in Matthew 5:46-47: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
The Tennessee menus varied only slightly from year to year. My father wouldn’t eat turkey or chicken after childhood experiences seeing his mother wring their necks, plunge them into hot water, and pick the pinfeathers off them, so we always had country ham as well as turkey.
We feasted on ham for Daddy, mashed potatoes for Uncle Wilburn, sweet potato casserole for me, green pineapple salad for Claire, fried corn for Kelsey and Beth, yeast rolls for Steve, cornbread dressing for Gina, green beans for Larry, boiled custard for Mother, carrot cake for Josh, coconut cake for everyone, cranberry salad and asparagus casserole brought by Aunt Mae, and other dishes Mother found necessary to round out the offerings.
But more memorable to me than the food were the people who were present. Their names now lost to me, I can see the parade of acquaintances that joined us over the years—elderly couples whose children lived far away, single men or women whom Mother had discovered without holiday plans, college students—from Californians to Iranians. Sometimes the connection to Mother seemed so remote I feared she’d plucked them from the street, but they were all welcome and interesting. In addition to the random two to six guests each year were maiden cousins, aunts and uncles with no children or no children nearby, and of course whoever was living with Mother and Daddy at the time.
Thanksgiving in Indiana at sister Nancy and husband Flay’s followed a similar course, adding homemade noodles for Brian and Steve, as well as jam for the yeast rolls, and shrimp cocktail for all. Indiana Thanksgiving melded two or three families: Flay’s sister and her married children and grandchildren, Flay and Nancy’s daughter-in-law’s parents and sometimes sister and her family, aunts who had no children, neighbors who had no plans. Nancy added the treat of filling plates to take to neighbors who couldn’t get out.
Two years ago, we celebrated at our house—taking the reins from the previous generation. All the specialties were there for those who came, adding our daughter-in-law Gina’s family to the mix.
This year was different. Since it wasn’t our year to go to Indiana, we were invited to join Gina’s family in Tennessee. For the first time in our lives, we ate two bountiful Thanksgiving dinners.
First we went to Gina’s dad’s family dinner around noon. What a spread! Aunt Rachel had everything you could imagine, nicely organized on her large kitchen island. To top it all, she had made a coconut cake that looked and tasted just like my mother’s. Amazing. With all the children and grandchildren of Gina’s grandmother there, we counted 32 people. I was touched to know that neighbors with nowhere to go were also included. Rachel asked Steve to lead the Thanksgiving prayer.
Around six, we were presented with another feast at the home of Gina’s mother Marcia. It included her extended family, her husband’s family, her son-in-law’s family, and thirteen of us that had been at the noon meal (including Gina’s father and stepmother, a gracious gesture from all.) Again the food was beautifully prepared and delicious, this time for about 24 of us. Marcia asked Josh to lead the Thanksgiving prayer.
It was all lovely, but with so many people there was no opportunity to go around and have everyone say one thing they are thankful for. I missed that. So I’ll just start a list here that can go on ad infinitum: I am thankful for my husband, my two children and the two they brought in as our children by marriage, our three grandchildren, my friends, the church where we’ve worshiped since 1975, Holy Spirit guidance, the beauty of nature, skills and talents we all have, the ability God has given people to design roads and skyscrapers and tree houses, good jobs, warm homes in winter and cool homes in summer, all the fruits of the Spirit, but especially for joy.
What have I left out that you are particularly grateful for?