Monday, November 24, 2008

More on Thanksgiving

I have been thinking a lot of how being in relationships means blending family traditions and how this happens sometimes seamlessly and sometimes hesitantly and sometimes awkwardly. I think in our family we have had all three "phases" of blending so to speak but have come to a place where things feel pretty good to us all. At least I hope so.

I also realized that I have been rather elitist about Thanksgiving. In my family, this was a big feast day. Big in every sense of the word. LOTS of food. And the focus was on fresh food. Big waxy turnips that would be chopped up that morning. Onions that made your eyes weep while they were chopped to add to stuffing. Bright orange carrots in big bunches and acorn squash. Preparations began the week before. Family china was carefully and lovingly washed. The silver polished. Pies made and stored for the big day. Centerpieces were made and the furniture in the dining room gleamed with freshly applied lemon oil. As a child, I didn't love the wholeThanksgiving experience. The food wasn't really all that appealing to me; at least till you got to dessert. And though there were lots of people around, we children were expected to watch the Thanksgiving parades on television which I personally found excruciatingly dull. But there was still something sort of magical about the day. I did love how pretty everything looked. I loved the fact that people came to visit. I just wished there was more kid friendly food and that there was something I could do.

When Kirsty and I became a couple we began having Thanksgiving at her family's home. And Thanksgiving was very different there. The food was still ample but their taste was different. Not many fresh veggies. They came from cans or frozen bags. We squeezed around a dining room table that just barely had room for us all but there was a feeling of warmth and camaraderie while her mother was alive. There was lovely china that was their family heirlom but there were always such dire threats for the person who broke or chipped a piece that I was petrified to help set or clear the table. After Kirsty's mom died, her sister continued to host the Thanksgiving meal but the joy was not there. I thought at first it was just the normal working through of grief. A chair once filled by a beloved person was empty. But it was more than that. Her sister didn't love preparing for the holiday. The meal felt diminished. Where before I didn't care that the veggies were canned or frozen instead of fresh, I found myself feeling that I hadn't had Thanksgiving despite being there most of the day. I tried helping. I brought a centerpiece. We helped prepare the meal as much as we were allowed. But it all felt remarkably second rate. Kirsty and I grew our family again and yet again and by child number 3 the little table could have no more people squeezed around it. We were told the children would have to sit in the living room on TV trays.

In reality they probably wouldn't have minded. But I minded. Deeply. Profoundly. I minded because I felt that they were being told through actions that they were second class citizens, not good enough to sit with the rest of us at table. If there had been other young cousins for them to sit with that would have been different. But on her side of the family, Kirsty is the only one to have children.

So I put my foot down. I could ignore canned veggies, but I couldn't do my kids in the living room another year. And we were adopting again, bringing a family of six to a house that didn't have young children. I felt this was a burden to Kirsty's sister and dad. We should offer to host the day. We did and after much wrangling it became a new tradition. And it is good. The table is big enough for 12 people and there are all ready 10 of us occupying the chairs now. The dining room is decorated up for the day. The kids make place cards for everyone. This year my KC grew the pumpkin that will be our pumpkin pie. He is so proud of this achievement. Fresh vegetables mingle with the canned varieties on the table. There is laughter, Thanksgiving parade watching by those who enjoy it (personally I still hate it but inexplicably, my children love it!), football watching by others, and did I say laughter?

I love Thanksgiving. I love the fact that I look at our dining room and it shines with welcoming beauty. I am grateful, truly grateful for the fact that we have food aplenty, especially this year when so many people are struggling. I am grateful for family, for the faces that are gathered around that table. I am grateful for my wife and my children. They remain always my greatest gifts.

And I am grateful for canned yams and mayo for the broccoli because these will always remind me of people I love (not that I will ever personally eat them!). Somehow their presence is a blending that seasons the day in a special and wonderful way.

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