A day late, maybe – but that just means I have one more to remember, right?
My dad was in the military until I was in my early teens, so in the years we were stationed overseas, holiday celebrations were sometimes just the four of us – Dad, Mom, my younger sister and me.
I don’t have many specific memories of those overseas celebrations, but I do remember one Thanksgiving (or was it Christmas) dinner we ate in the Army mess hall. We might have just moved, or just packed up to move, or maybe Mom wasn’t feeling well and my parents decided not to mess with an elaborate holiday dinner.
I don’t remember much detail – trays and long tables and the buzz of conversation you get when a lot of people are talking in a large, open area – but we were together and I seem to remember the food was pretty darn good and we all had a good time.
Home for the Holidays
Later, when we were back in the States, my parents would load us up in our 1968 VW minibus for the long drive from Massachusetts to Michigan, where both their families lived. My sister and I, seasoned travelers, would lounge out in the back with books or count a particular color of car or play the alphabet game to pass the miles.
One year – again, I don’t remember whether this was at Thanksgiving or Christmas – the heat pipe fell off partway into the trip. It got so cold in our little minibus that you could see your breath in the air.
Mom bundled me and my sister, still wearing our winter coats and shoes, under blankets in the back while she and my dad shivered in the front seat all the way there. She was worried about the two of us freezing, but we were snug as bugs in a rug. Needless to say, Dad fixed the heat before we began our return trip!
A Family Affair
After my dad retired we moved to Michigan, which shortened our holiday drives considerably!
We always ate Thanksgiving dinner with my dad’s family, and there were a lot of us! My grandparents, Dad’s brother and sister and their spouses, all of us cousins – nine, all told – and frequently some family friends as well. As we kids got older, there were our spouses and children as well. I It wasn’t uncommon for between twenty and thirty people to gather around folding tables for the holiday meal.
And there was food in plenty! Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and corn – the works.
My Polish grandmother made braised red cabbage, which I didn’t care for at the time. It was different! And a bit sour because it was made with vinegar! And it was different! Of course, I later moved to North Carolina, where greens are always eaten with vinegar. I suspect I’d really like Grandma’s braised red cabbage these days. I wish I had her recipe!
If we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s in Grand Rapids, as we usually did, after dinner my parents would pack me and my sister into the car and we’d drive across town to visit my mom’s family.
Her parents had passed by this time, but there were more aunts and uncles and cousins – seven of us on this side.
Every year, my uncle would put up an elaborate, usually moving, Christmas display. This was back in the days before you could find that kind of thing on every street corner, and people would come from all around the city to see it. The entire time we were there, you’d hear cars pull up and stop to watch the display.
There’d be more food, and more talk…and talk…and talk. We cousins would wind up in the basement watching movies or playing videogames, or in my cousin’s room talking about how boring the adults were, because we were teenagers.
To be honest, I didn’t really appreciate our family gatherings as a teenager. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my family, I just didn’t see the point in being dragged halfway across the state to spend time with them.
Now, of course, I’d give anything to be able to spend time visiting and bonding with my extended family.
When I moved to North Carolina to be with my husband, I naively assumed we’d drive back and visit as my parents had. What I forgot to take into account were the economic differences between an Army officer nearing the end of his career and a young family just starting out. I have very few regrets about that move, but being so far from my extended family is chief among them.
Economics brings me to one final Thanksgiving story, a story of unexpected generosity. Time may have eroded some of the exact details, but this is the gist of it:
When our boys were young, we went through a spell of hard times. I wasn’t working, because any work I could find would have just about paid for daycare, and what MrH was making was just about – barely – paying the bills.
At one point, I lamented to a friend that it was a shame all the good deals on turkeys came now, at the end of the month, because the end of the month was usually neck-and-neck with the end of our money, and I couldn’t afford to buy one.
This wonderful lady, whose finances were probably not a whole lot better than our own, took me to Food Lion and bought us not only a turkey, but some of the trimmings.
To be clear, we were not completely without food. We would have eaten We would have eaten that Thanksgiving day, even if it was only beans and rice. But her kindness and generosity made it possible for our little family to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast – and several more meals – that we would otherwise not have had.
I’ve never forgotten that thoughtful gesture, and never ceased to be thankful for it. We’ve never been well-off in a monetary sense, and probably never will be, but we have abundant wealth in our friends.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving – if you celebrate Thanksgiving – this year, and if you don’t, I hope you had a wonderful Thursday. If you created any Thanksgiving memories, or have older ones you’d like to share, feel free to, er, dish in the comments.