I was talking with a friend today and we were sharing our Thanksgiving plans. He told me how they were having Thanksgiving with his Mom, who lives about an hour from here, and then with his wife’s family, who lives an hour from there, all in one day. He said that his kids hate all the travel. As I listened to his tale of the Turkey day to come, I was reminded of Turkey days gone by.
Growing up, we always spent Thanksgiving Day with my Dad’s family. Every year, the week after Thanksgiving, my grandparents would jump in their car and leave their North Eastern Pennsylvania home and head to the warmer temps of Florida. Since they were never here for Christmas, Thanksgiving became a Thanksgiving and Christmas combination Holiday. The trip to my grandparents house was a three hour journey, each way. Given the extra large size of my Dad’s family, and the relatively small size of my grandparents home, staying over was not really an option, so it was always a day trip. Just like my friend’s kids, my brother and I were never too enthused about the 6 hour trip, even longer in bad weather, in the back of the car. This was pre-gameboy, pre-portable DVD players, for that matter it was pre-DVD, so entertaining ourselves usually included bickering until my father would threaten bodily harm upon us, often crossing the point of just a threat.
Truth be told, when I was younger, I probably wasn’t overly thankful for Thanksgiving.
Every year it was the same routine. We’d pack up early in the morning, load up the trunk with gifts, a couple pies, extra coats in case of an emergency, and make our way through the mountains and valleys, around the Downsville reservoir, and on to the Free Methodist church in Waverly, PA. Yes, you read that right, the church. Now before you make any assumptions that this was some sort of ‘holier than thou’ way to celebrate the holidays, the truth is, this too was a direct result of size of family being greater than the size of the grandparent’s home. You see, my grandparents had seven kids, who had spouses and kids of their own, who also had some spouses and kids, putting this party well into the neighborhood of 40 people.
Despite my despise for the actual journey, the event itself was usually a lot of fun. The ladies of the family would usually be in the kitchen cooking multiple turkeys and mashing enough potatoes for a small army. The guys would help set up tables and chairs, and others would set the actual tables and make sure everything was ready for the Thanksgiving feast. Amidst all the prep, there was lots of catching up among the adults. If someone showed up with a new car, the prep participation would be severely affected as the joy of a new car in our family was only beat out by the slightest margin by the joy a new child in the family. Dinner, would of course, be a typical Thanksgiving dinner. A blessing by my Grandfather, followed by turkey, taters, stuffing, some veggies, and green olives, lots of green olives. Post dinner activities would involve cleanup for some, and escaping to the sanctuary of the church where the sounds of guitars, pianos, organs, and voices could be heard. Some time later, we’d all head back to my Grandparent’s house for desserts and the Christmas gift exchange. After some more chaos and conversation, we’d all say our goodbyes, and make the trips back to our homes.
Sometime during my college years, my family started to spread out across the country, and this tradition came to an end.
As I heard my friend’s comments, not only was I reminded of Thanksgivings past, but it made me a little sad. I was sad that I did not appreciate the treasure I had in this Thanksgiving tradition. And now, after that tradition has gone by the wayside, and many of the original cast of participants are no longer here to celebrate with us, I so wish I could spend just one more Thanksgiving morning making the three hour trek from the Catskill Mountains to Waverly Pennsylvania to be with family for a day of fun, story telling, guitar picking, turkey eating, and memory making.
So, whatever you are planning for this Thanksgiving… be thankful. Despite the work, the shopping, the prep, the cleanup, the crazy uncle, the annoying nephew, and the loud kids, embrace the day. Time has a way of changing our traditions… and one that may not seem all that great today may be the very tradition you long for in the future.