For the first time in my life, the Winter Holidays are a thing I’ve dreaded almost all year. Working, staying busy constantly, so I would not have time to think about the end of the year and how it would feel. Now, at last, and all too soon, the first of these days has come and gone. Thanksgiving, the day itself was warm and pleasant in the company of my brother-in-law and his family. Of course, this was not the gathering I’ve been dreading. Thanksgiving is more of a mile marker in my year now. This year, especially, I am truly thankful for family, and friends who have become my family. spending the day with my brother-in-law is a relatively new tradition for us, only a few years now, but I treasure it even so. Having this planned day in place already this year eases me into the holidays to come. I draw strength from their warmth and love and let it settle over my shoulders like a cloak to comfort and keep me warm as I head into what feels like an endless, cold winter night.
Next to come will be Grandmother’s birthday on November 28th. Throughout my childhood we celebrated her birthday on Thanksgiving day since so many of our family would be gathered together on that day. This was always so much a part of the holiday that I came to believe her birthday actually was on Thanksgiving day. Somehow I didn’t consider or realize that the holiday wasn’t always on the same day of the month. Grandmother’s birthday, always on Thanksgiving day, always on a Thursday, was simply part of the magic that made her who she was for me, ‘practically perfect in every way’, my very own Mary Poppins. In fact, I was well into adulthood before I ever gave the matter of her real birthdate any thought whatsoever. So in this way, Thanksgiving was always a perfect holiday for me. I have been so fortunate in that I’ve always looked forward to and enjoyed every holiday with my family, unlike so many of my friends.
When I was a child, every Thanksgiving, like most holidays in Grandmother’s house, was a constant. Each one so much like the last but never boring, never mundane. I know, now, that there was always a tremendous amount of work and preparation for most of the week before–buying groceries, decorating, baking, cleaning the house and setting up extra tables and chairs for everyone who would be coming together for this one meal. I helped with much of the decorating, cleaning and baking but it never felt like work. She, just like Mary Poppins, had a spoonful of sugar to make every job a game in one way or another. she worked hard, made it all look effortless. The day would arrive, we’d spend the morning watching Macy’s parade on TV until it was over and then football until time for dinner. During commercials and after the parade, I helped set the table and put out food and treats and whatever final decorating touches Grandmother asked me to do. All the while I’d sneak nibbles of treats from some of the dishes when she wasn’t looking, sometimes we’d sneak nibbles together!
When dinner was finally ready and all the family was there, the TV was turned off and we gathered around the kitchen and dining room to hear Grandad say the blessing, he modeled humble gratitude for us all, never forgetting to mention being thankful for his wife and her hard work. Then he’d make some sweet joke and we’d begin filling our plates, waiting for Grandmother to go first as Grandad insisted she did.
Among the delights to be shared were always turkey, sometimes ham, dressing, gravy, potatoes, mashed as well as sweet, corn, green beans, crunchy raw veggies and dips, deviled eggs and soft, warm yeast rolls with her special cranberry relish. The relish was a sweet and tangy concoction of whole cranberries, oranges, pecans and more, all blended together. We still make and share this often in our family.
If this wasn’t enough and if you still had room for them, there were pies–pumpkin, pecan, chocolate or her special butterscotch with meringue on top. Often there was nut bread, banana bread and cookies too. And birthday cake for Grandmother. Usually chocolate or German chocolate which she usually baked herself, unless my Mom felt up to baking. During dessert, she’d open her cards and gifts from all of us. She did so quietly, modestly as she did everything else. she didn’t want people to make a fuss over her but we always did. I believe I learned about being thankful from her, for all that I have. And because we celebrated our love for her on this day, I learned to be thankful for her and for all the people in my life.
What a powerful lesson my Grandparents have bestowed. Thanksgiving has come and gone and I remain thankful for everything I have and for all those people in my life, past and present, who have blessed me with lessons of their own. Though bittersweet and painful, I welcome the next month, the beginning of the end of a difficult year. I am already thankful for the rush of memories I am about to experience and for the comfort I know is there from those who love me. I look forward to a new year with new people and new memories to enrich the old.
This is my Thanksgiving prayer and my best wishes for all of the holidays. Thank you, as always for reading and being part of my journey.