Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It’s a fairly simple day. Let’s face it. Roasting a turkey is easy and if everyone pitches in, Thanksgiving meals are joyful, relaxing experiences.

But for me, Thanksgiving isn’t about the food. It’s about family. It’s a day of rest.

I come from a long line of farmers. As a child, I lived on a farm. Thanksgiving marked the end of a season. The crops had been harvested. The canning was done. We could gather as a family at my grandparent’s house and find peace.

I have very specific memories of Thanksgiving celebrations during those years. We frequently experienced our first snow around Thanksgiving. It would be light, barely covering the ground. A dusting, really. But with it came a chill in the air and the promise of Christmas.

While the women worked together in the kitchen getting the meal together, the men would go hunting. The men never returned with game. I learned later in life that rabbit hunting is more about being outside together.

Grandma kept a box of toys on the steps leading to the attic. While the men were outside bonding and the women were busy in Grandma’s kitchen, my cousins and I would pull the box of toys out and play.

A metal truck or two were leftovers from when our parents were children. Clothespin dolls Grandma dressed with scraps of material were there as well. We would load a truck with little green “milk cans” which were really empty Doan’s pill containers, and make our dairy runs to the various farms we set up in the family room.

As we got older, we ventured to the basement where we would write, practice, and perform skits and plays, using the big stone hearth as a stage.

Grandma’s dining room table would be set when we arrived. She had a practice of setting the table before she cooked. (“If you have the table set when your husband gets in from work,” she advised me when I married, “he’ll think supper is almost ready.”)

The big table was set for the adults. I sat at the kid’s table. Grandma also had it set, complete with a centerpiece she had made herself. Of course everyone knew the big table was where it was at. Whatever “it” was.

I remember when my cousin, Steve, was promoted to the adult table. He even said the Thanksgiving prayer! The rest of us were in awe. We didn’t whine. We didn’t complain. We knew our time would come. Sadly, I moved away before reaching that particular rite of passage.

Grandma was a great cook in her own right, but so were the others. I’m sure we had turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, but I really only remember two particular food items.

I remember the baked beans. Aunt Maxine always brought baked beans.

And I remember the sweet pickles. The process used to make pickles back then required the slices of cucumbers sit in their sealed jars forever. (Okay, not really forever. It just felt that way.) We started breaking into the pickles and other canned goods around Thanksgiving. What a treat.

My memories of Thanksgiving afternoon are vivid. The women would clear the table and wash the dishes. Chatter and laughter filled the kitchen.

The men turned on the television to watch football. Grandpa would fall asleep in his big velvety soft maroon chair, his feet propped up on the matching ottoman.

But for us, this was the best part of the day. Grandma would pull out the Wish Books: catalogues from major department stores. The rules were simple. Each child could write his or her name on two, and only two, items indicating something they would like for Christmas.

We pored over those books. About the time you thought you had made a decision, a cousin would find something more intriguing. We would eventually sign our names across pictures of dolls or cars, games or books, and call it a day.

We weren’t frivolous. The treasures we chose weren’t as costly as toys are today. We were farm kids and we knew the value of a dollar. We also knew if you asked for something that was overpriced, you had wasted your Thanksgiving afternoon looking at the catalogues in the first place.

But if you were thoughtful, we knew you stood a good chance of having your wishes come true. Especially if the crops were good that year.

I blog about writing. So why this trip down memory lane?
·      I could point out how important it is for writers to write. This could be called a writing exercise.
·      I could mention that we as writers draw from our past experiences. For example, I actually used the advice my grandmother gave me about setting the table first in my debut novel.
·      But here’s the real answer- I think it is important for writers to preserve family stories for their children and grandchildren.

You are a writer. You took the time to read my story. What is yours? What memory might you preserve for future generations. Write.

And my Wish Book wish for you?
And the creation of sweet, new memories.
Happy Thanksgiving.

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