Thanksgiving is here once again. The national day of being thankful. I have so many things to be thankful for: Home, family, lifestyle — all the blessings of a loving God. This year I find myself thankful for all the memories of past Thanksgivings and the people I shared them with.
A large part of my family is gone now. But I can look back on all those Thanksgiving dinners of the past and still feel so thankful for all the good times and the love. I come from Irish stock, so we were very clannish and looked for any reason to gather for food, laughter, and companionship.
The original clan
I remember the excitement of Thanksgiving morning. Mom gathering up precooked food in her best corning ware dishes, and making sure we were all dressed in our Sunday best. Then off to whomever’s turn it was to host the dinner that year. They all took it in turns: all the aunts, cousins, grandparents. We would arrive to park among all the cars crammed into the front yard, and Mom would head for the kitchen where she would find all the women busily cooking, tasting, laying the table, chatting, laughing. Everyone was dressed in their best with fancy aprons only worn on these special occasions. They all looked like Beaver Cleaver’s mom, even down to a few stands of pearls.
The kids, on the other hand, were scattered everywhere. If there was a television set some would be watching the Macy’s Day Parade. We had never seen a real parade before and we were glued to the set. The older children would be outside, running, playing games, and climbing trees. The teenagers would either be pressed into service carrying food to the table, or gathered in groups discussing the interests of the day. Sometimes the men and boys would be outside showing each other new guns they had purchased and trying them out. Or perhaps the men would just be gathered chatting, smoking, and whittling.
Then dinner was pronounced ready and everyone scrambled for the kitchen. We all stood quietly as the blessing was said, then the children got to fill their plates first. We spread out around the house and sometimes outside to eat picnic-style while the women took plates to the comfort of the living room and the men took the table.
And what a table! Everyone brought their best china to use, and the table literally groaned with food. Nearly all of it was homegrown and homemade. And we usually had one whole table for deserts. We ate until our sides nearly burst. We laughed until we cried. We enjoyed each other and felt warm, loved, and so thankful to be part of this large, noisy family.
But, as life goes, the generations began to pass away, and our gatherings became smaller and smaller. We moved farther into the modern age and life became more hectic. And the younger generation married into other families who wanted them to be part of their Thanksgivings and didn’t feel comfortable joining our loud and joyful clan. By the time I became a teenager, it was down to just my mother, her brother and sisters. But we still maintained the standard. Best clothes, fancy aprons, best china, table groaning with food, and lots of love and laughter.
left to right: Mom, sister Freda, brother George, sister Ruby
Sadly those days are gone now. All of us cousins married, had families of our own, and learned to rotate the holidays between two families. Where once you married someone in the community and everyone became family and gathered together, most of us married “new comers” who had other family traditions and weren’t used to claiming just anyone as family, no matter how distant, or just because they were the cousin of a cousin of a cousin…
All of my family is gone now except for one cousin, an aunt, and a best friend who was related to all the same people as me, but not related to me. We all have our separate lives and families. But I am still blessed because of the love of my husband’s family who have made me one of their own.
The McAllister Clan
This Thanksgiving it will be just us, Greg’s dad, his sister and her family, and my children and their families. Greg’s brother and family live in Indiana. But it will be the day after Thanksgiving, so my children can spend time with their other families. Thanksgiving day itself will be spent quietly at home with a small meal for just the two of us. But it will be on the best china, and we will still watch the parade, and we will share all of our wonderful memories and be thankful for all things both past and present.