Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. That's because, from when I was a child to this year, it's been a day for family reunions large and small.
Growing up in a rural suburb north of Philadelphia, our home became the gathering point for a Thanksgiving celebration that featured an extended family celebration of up to sixty people. For a week before the holiday, my parents would be cleaning the house, reorganizing the basement, and cleaning the floor of toys and scuff marks generated by being the indoor roughhouse and defacto hideout for six rambunctious kids. Tables and chairs for that many weren't easy to come by, so we would be driving to any place we could collect a few more toward our goal--church, relative’s homes, whatever. Every little bit helped.
The day itself started with football. Not the lousy pro game featuring a bad Detroit Lions game; rather, for a small town in Pennsylvania, the mother of all games--the high school rivalry game. The town our high school was in was divided into two high school districts--Central Bucks West, where I attended, was the older of the two schools, Central Bucks East the newer, glossier institution. Don't picture this division as some Dickensian tale of rich versus poor; think of it more as a battle between the have some versus the have some more.
In any case, two things usually happened. About 10,000 people would show up for the game, which kicked off around 10 a.m. Friends, parents, alumni, teachers, marching bands--all were in attendance. It was a celebration of community. And then CB West would beat CB East like a drum. It was as predictable as the menu for the feast that would be served a few hours later.
In the afternoon, dinner was at our house. Not just for Mom and Dad and their six kids; a whole family reunion, from grandparents to cousins to sisters and kids of aunts and uncles. Four or five tables set in a U-shape around the basement of the family home, small kids off at a table to the side, heaping serving dishes of turkey, cranberry, stuffing, and every possible preparation of potatoes you could imagine. Somehow Mom made enough to make sure everyone went home with leftovers. And the prospect of my Uncle Jack falling asleep on the living room floor, watching football, was as certain as the outcome of the high school football game earlier in the day.
Every year, the dessert table was filled with every kind of delicacy, but the most memorable is the one that, every year, went untouched. Aunt Maud used to love the smell of mincemeat pie baking; neither she, nor anyone else apparently, liked the pie; just the aroma of it in the oven. Each year it would appear and sit, untouched, but fully expected and warmly welcomed for the tradition it represented.
In more recent years, Thanksgiving has been a family reunion on a smaller scale. Since 2008, Thanksgiving has represented the return home of a daughter from college, first Lindsay from her school in Florida, more recently Kelsey home from college in Massachusetts. Both girls knew before enrolling that attending their choice school would mean long bouts of time away from home. The longing and loneliness that breeds among both parents and child easily rolls away as we put family back together, at least for a few days, laughing at each other's foibles, especially the old man of the house and his penchant for large turkeys that could feed an army that never materializes. Oh well, there's always leftovers.
Here's hoping your Thanksgiving memories are as joyful as mine, and that your holiday this year is filled with family, fellowship, and great food.
I have to go make a mince pie.