For the first time ever in our sixteen year history, Teresa and I had the Thanksgiving dinner at our home last night. It was a different kind of Thanksgiving for me.
My memories of Thanksgiving during my childhood and teenage years involve food – lots of it – and family…anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five members getting together for lunch at one of my grandmother’s houses in Richards. It really didn’t matter to me which one because the houses were right across the dirt road from each other in the tiny rural southeastern Texas town; and both grandmothers always had tables overflowing with turkey and cornbread dressing and the vegetables, rolls, desserts, tea and coffee that were served as complements to the unpardoned bird.
I never sat at the “adult” table in my entire life. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s” table in the kitchen even after they were married and had their own children and I had graduated from college. I would like to say I remember my last Thanksgiving meals at my grandmothers’ houses, but I don’t. I moved away from Texas when I was in my early twenties and tried to call to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving from wherever I was on that day, but I was always late in the afternoon or early evening and everyone had gone home by then.
Gradually through the years the generation that roasted the turkey and made the cornbread dressing has died off and with them the tradition that was Thanksgiving as I knew it died, too. Now I have a few cousins in Texas who call or text to say Happy Thanksgiving and we promise to see each other before the next year is out, but those visits are far and few between, as my cousin Martin says. We have no central figure to draw us together – and so we drift mostly apart.
Pretty’s family, on the other hand, is much larger and she has many living aunts, uncles and cousins scattered around the country – most still located in the upstate of South Carolina, though. They usually gather for an early evening meal in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church of Fingerville, but the gathering has lost steam through the last years as individual families within the larger family have opted for their own forms of celebration. The tradition came to a screeching halt this year when Pretty’s family Thanksgiving was cancelled due to lack of interest and the aging of the aunts who organized it. Pretty’s sister asked her if we would have the dinner at Casa de Canterbury, and she said of course.
And so Pretty’s father, sister, brother-in-law, son and daughter-in-law came to our house last night around 7 o’clock just in time to watch the second half of the Cowboys/Redskins football game while we stuffed ourselves with ham and turkey and the other delicious side dishes that were very familiar to me since they were the same side dishes I remembered from my childhood. We might be eating later than I was used to, but we definitely ate the same food groups. The football game was also reminiscent of our Texas traditions, although we had of course, rooted for the Cowboys at our house and Pretty’s family was a Washington Redskins super fan base.
The food and football were comfortable topics like a pair of old bedroom slippers slightly worn, but whoa! Nellie, the after-dinner political discussion was something else. Pretty and her sister are renowned for their opinions on books, religion (or the lack thereof), interesting people, family gossip and last, but not least, politics with the recent presidential election providing more than its usual share of discussion.
The sisters come by their political passion naturally because their father is the original Free Thinker/Liberal Philosopher who sparked that interest. This is a man whose family came from the poorest region of Appalachia, a man who managed to get a college degree somehow and then became what he admired most, a teacher. This is a man whose roots were the ultra-conservative teachings of Southern Baptist churches but he looked beyond the church to embrace his lifelong pursuit of helping the underprivileged in the only way he knew how: to educate them.
Needless to say, the sisters and their father held center stage as they vociferously dissected the failures of the Democratic Party to elect Hillary Clinton and their amazement and fear generated by the new president-elect. These people do not have inside voices. I added an appropriate comment when I could get a word in, but mostly I sat back and enjoyed.
The highlight of the evening for me, though, came when Pretty’s son joined the fray. Should Bernie have been the candidate? Was the alignment with immigration support a wise one for Clinton? What happened to the Obama voters who didn’t show up? Why did 47% of the qualified voters not exercise their right to vote? Here was a millennial couple with their own opinions, and it turns out Pretty’s son is as political as she and her sister are. The grandfather must have been so pleased with the dialogue at this family Thanksgiving meal.
Pretty was happy for the first time in weeks; she was able to air out her feelings with people who shared them, and this Thanksgiving was a tonic for everyone who came. Love and what it means to be family can be found really any day of the year and at every meal, but somehow for me Thanksgiving reminds me of my connection to the past and my hope for the future.
A different kind of Thanksgiving for sure…but one I’ll take again next year.