Last night while doing dishes, I started thinking about Thanksgiving and how we will spend it this year. That led me to thinking about the Thanksgivings of my childhood.
When I was growing up, my folks frequently hosted Thanksgiving Day at their house and a large turkey was the centerpiece of the meal. (Do you always have turkey on Thanksgiving? Or was/is your family brave enough to have something different such as . . . oh, say, ham?)
My parent's modest house did have a separate dining room with a table that had leaves which could be added to seat quite a few people. Most often our guests were my mom's sisters, their spouses and kids that gathered for the feast.
We had a large archway from the dining room to the living room, and I took it upon myself to cut construction paper letters spelling out "Happy Thanksgiving," attach them to a string and fasten it from side to side of the archway. (Such creative talent, huh?) I did the same thing, with the proper greeting, of course, for Christmas, New Year's Eve, Easter, birthdays, etc. (There was no stopping me if I could get hold of colored paper, glue and scissors.)
Back in that day in Illinois, we would sometimes have snow on the ground around Thanksgiving time. (Yes, Virginia, we are experiencing global warming. These days we're lucky if we get snow up here in northern Minnesota for Thanksgiving.) That meant that after the big meal which was usually in early afternoon, we kids would bundle up and go outside to play in the snow. Someone always got hit in the face with a snowball or got snow in their boots and ended up crying. We all ended up soaked and cherry-cheeked. Back inside and dried off, we played endless games frequently dividing up into small groups according to our ages and/or game playing abilities. I can remember some of the games getting so wild that the adults put an end to our fun by separating us and insisting we take a rest period.
My dad was the one who always ate too much at our bountiful table and complained mightily about it. However, relaxing in front of the TV with a football game and the rest of the male relatives soon relieved his discomfort.
I had one uncle who was apt to imbibe in too much of the start-of-the-holiday-season alcoholic spirits. Being a naturally shy, kind person, the only effect upon him of his over indulgence was that he got very jovial and forgot his normally quiet nature for a couple of hours.
Back then there was still the clear delineation between male and female behavior and duties at such events. The women left the table to clear things away and do the dishes in the kitchen. I remember trying to eavesdrop on the women's sometimes "confidential" and hushed-toned conversations while the mountains of dishes were being washed . . . by hand, of course, as there were no automatic dishwashers then. The aforementioned football watching males would have moved to the living room to . . . relax. And perhaps stir themselves enough to put another log or two in the fireplace which in our house went virtually unused except at holiday time.
Speaking of that fireplace, I enjoyed my very first taste of liquor in front of it. I don't know exactly how old I was although I'm guessing I was in my early teens. My dad was a lover of Mogen David Concord Grape wine, and I constantly pestered him for a taste of it. One year he gave me a shot glass full of the wine and told me to go sit in the living room and sip it slowly. This was at Christmas time, and there was a fire crackling in the fireplace. I sat down with my wine in front of the warm fire and felt quite grown up and special as I slowly consumed it. It was a family joke for a long time (brought up frequently to my embarrassment) that I was found stretched out on the rug in front of the fire, sound asleep with the empty shot glass by my side. (Truth be told, alcohol still affects me the same way.)
My one regret of moving up here to Minnesota so far away from my large extended family is that . . . we found ourselves so far away from family. In the past many years, we've gone "back home" for a couple of Thanksgivings, family has come here, we've had friends to our house and we've gone to celebrate the holiday at friends' homes. Some Thanksgivings have been a pleasant, quiet day with just Papa Pea, our daughter and me.
Not to say that I haven't spent many enjoyable Thanksgiving Days as an adult, but I think there's a special quality about the day (perhaps all holidays) that we remember from when we were children.