Today call me thankful. It is that time of year, after all. Throughout my childhood, my family spent every Thanksgiving with my Aunt Karen in Auburn, California. For more than two decades we endured the eight hour car ride there, but it was worth every round of “My father owns a grocery store” we played in the days before portable DVD players and iPods. For my sister Nancy and me, Auburn was the place of childhood nostalgia we looked forward to visiting every year.
Then we grew up (well, Nancy did) and our family inevitably faced a Thanksgiving where Nancy didn’t join us. At the time, I was a starving student, prone to “writing” gifts to people because I couldn’t afford actual presents. So the year we traveled (by plane!) to Auburn without my sister, I wrote something for her and the family, a copy of which my Aunt Karen and Uncle Kurt just sent me upon my request. This season, Nancy and her family are heading back to Auburn and it is I who will not be joining them. The Gardners will be traveling to Temecula by car (with portable DVD players and iPods), to spend Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law Linda and her family, our own tradition I hope will last for decades.
Still, I miss those Thanksgivings when we were kids. So I’m sharing what I wrote for my family almost twenty years ago. I cut it down (because it’s long) but I will not change my words (although my adult self longs to). This was how I felt then and how I feel now in my forties. To my spectacular family: Knute and Renis Anderson; Jim and Diane Christianson; Kurt and Karen Bleuel; and Nancy, Randy, Jordan and Riley Stuart; no matter where we are or how far apart, I carry your love with me. Always.
“Every year we drove to Auburn for Thanksgiving. We packed our warm clothes and our dog Migas (pronounced MEE–GAHS, not MY-GAS, mercifully) and brought food so we could travel through the evening with a minimum of stops. The “Nutcracker Suite” played, we talked and watched for stars. This was quality time for Mom, Dad, Nancy and me.
When we arrived at Aunt Karen’s house, she would be there waiting with Grandpa. Grandma would be there waiting with coffee cake. Indeed, Grandma’s coffee cake was almost more of an annual tradition than turkey and my sister and I would always gobble a piece or two, even if it were past our bedtime. (We couldn’t fight effectively with food in our mouths so needless to say, the family saw to it we were well fed throughout the holidays.)
After coffee cake, Nancy and I would bed down in “The Blue Room,” one of Aunt Karen’s guest rooms, painted blue of course, with one wall entirely lined by books. In the morning, Grandma’s pumpkin bread served as the first morning bribe. When the food was removed, Nancy and I would begin our search for entertainment: a genuine antique dentist’s chair, a piano, a three-sided fireplace, National Lampoons, a pet rabbit named Dondi. In terms of whole-family activities, we took long walks in the fresh crisp air and played endless games of Uno, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and “Oh Hell.”
And then there was Thanksgiving Dinner. I capitalize it because any event involving food and my family demands recognition. Just when Nancy and I felt we’d faint from hunger, Grandma put the finishing touches on her Jell-O mold, Aunt Karen added marshmallows to the sweet potatoes, Mom pronounced the gravy thickened, Dad adjusted the video camera to capture these moments on tape.
Once all the serving trays had completed the rounds of the table – even the unpopular plate of olives – someone would suggest giving thanks. Our family does not generally say grace because, much like fighting, it cannot be accomplished effectively with a mouthful of food. This day being Thanksgiving, however, a martyr generally volunteered to stumble over a few words before the aroma of stuffing wore us down. A hush would come over the crowd; we would take a collective, and yes, audible breath…then inhale our food. We must have paused at times, food in mouth, to maintain witty dinnertime repartee. If we checked those video tapes, we would most likely hear weak puns, stale jokes, and obligatory “Julie Stories” throughout the meal. Still, I’m convinced we didn’t speak much during that initial quarter-hour of intense gastronomy. First, we concentrated on keeping starvation at bay; then the real conversation began.
You see, I believe our family said grace after dinner. We remained at the table, not for minutes, but for hours after the meal. That was the blessing. We did not assign a time for formal thanks because it was offered constantly in the form of humor, understanding and time. Always time. And pumpkin pie. Can there be a simpler way to demonstrate gratitude than by talking to each other, playing games, taking walks, singing songs and smiling? We celebrated our affection unanimously and mostly with actions, not words. This time spent together was our family’s grace.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my family, our traditions, our “untraditions” and our love. For these things, I am truly grateful, because they ensure that we are never far removed from Thanksgiving. This year Nancy will not be with us. She is spending the holiday with her future in-laws who are blessed with a new baby. No one on our side is ready to give birth right now so we understand. But our family, too, has seen several changes since last Thanksgiving. For the record, here are some things that are different: The number of people around our dinner table, Mom’s hairstyle, Nancy’s marital status, and the amount of Calendar days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, there remain several things that are unchanged: The amount of love at our dinner table, Nancy’s hairstyle, Julie’s financial status, and the amount of calendar days between today and tomorrow.
We have lost 365 days, several pounds, one uterus, a couple of cars, a few very special friends, our perspective – occasionally – and Migas. On the other hand we have gained another year of life, several pounds, a couple of cars with the best Motor Trade Insurance from i4MT and even one the scooters from the of adult electric scooters list by MyProScooter, a few very special friends and some perspective. After all, Migas cannot be replaced.
Our previous Thanksgivings have been extraordinary, as will be those we have yet to experience. Therefore, my wish for this year is that no one diminish our current joys by longing for yesterday’s holidays. Likewise, let us not be unfair to the past by exclaiming “It’s only getting better.” Instead, let’s celebrate the fact that with a love like our family shares, time can do no wrong. Years pass, elements change, and still we are more than blessed. These words include everyone, but they were written especially for Nancy. Your grace lasts all year long little sister, so at Thanksgiving, you can never be far from our hearts. For this reason, I don’t mind sleeping in “The Blue Room” alone this year. And as for flying to Auburn instead of driving, I just may like that a lot.”
Sentimental? Yep. True? Absolutely. Love? Always. And then some…