Turkey Day is nearly here. The radio is my head playing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” that old Thanksgiving classic I learned in second or third grade. I love that song, even though I never have seen that much snow as early as Thanksgiving. The other traditional Thanksgiving tune that stick in mind is the hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” which I just discovered was written in 1844, the same year as “Over the River.”
Thinking back over my personal Thanksgiving history, I find a lot of variation. Childhood Thanksgivings in New Mexico varied. Some years we visited my mother’s family in Las Cruces, where most of my cousins lived. Those years enough food for a small army filled my aunt’s kitchen table, and tables for eating were set up in the living room for adults and an enclosed porch for the kids. Other years we went to visit my father’s parents in Clovis where things were a little quieter. Or we stayed home in Los Alamos, enjoying the meal with various combinations of friends and/or visiting relatives.
When Mother fixed the dinner, we always had turkey stuffed with my mother’s cornbread dressing. She left the seasoning of that dressing to my father, which baffled me at the time. Aside from making pancakes on weekends, seasoning the stuffing was his only contribution to cooking. We always had mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, candied sweet potatoes with toasty marshmallow topping, green beans (plain ones, not the soupy casserole version), 24-hour salad and fresh cranberry-orange relish. Dessert always included both pumpkin and mince pies, with lots of whipped cream.
During the years our children were growing up, Thanksgiving was always at our house, with my parents and brother joining us. In later years my brother's growing family was added. The menu remained stable, though the dressing was never quite the same without my father’s deft touch to season it. The last twenty-some years, the feast has changed. The distance between most family members has multiplied by a factor of ten. We alternate between staying home, often including assorted friends whose families are also far away, or going to visit my mother-in-law, who lives just east of Philadelphia.
Although this is not a tradition in our family, many families center the food preparation and meal around television with the Macy’s parade in the morning and football later in the day.
Isn’t it ironic how most of us primarily connect this holiday with turkey, travel, and television, followed by Black Friday shopping sprees? The holiday was instituted to remind us to be thankful for the many blessings we enjoy in this land of plenty. Even this year as the economy is melting like ice cream on hot pie, there is plenty to be thankful for, and I hope you’ll join me in recording some of those many blessings in stories. Encourage family members to share stories as you gather. Keep a recorder running, and/or make notes. In future years, your family will have a collection of stories to add to their Gratitude lists on Thanksgiving.
Among the many things I’m thankful for is the technology that allows me to create this blog, and for all my many readers. I wish each and every one of you the very best Thanksgiving ever, and another year of blessings.
Write now: a list of things you are thankful for, and then go on to write about your memories of Thanksgivings, past and present. Gather a collection of your family’s traditional recipes. Do you always stick to the same ones or vary the menu? What other traditions do you have? Do you recall unusual events or circumstances? How were people arranged for eating — all around one table, or a separate one for children? Keep those fingers moving and get it all down!