I hated Thanksgiving when I was young. As a picky eater, I couldn’t understand all the fuss made over one meal. My main goal was to eat as little as possible then slip out before my parents commented on how few vegetables I’d finished.
Mom would fix her own fancy meal at night, but afternoons were spent at grandma’s. As much as I love each of my aunts, uncles, and cousins individually, dozens of people crammed into one small house got overwhelming. I’d spend the day hiding in corners, then eat quickly at the fold-out kids’ table before escaping into the yard to play.
If we’d had to dress up in Pilgrim hats or something, now, that might have been fun.
It wasn’t until my great-grandmother died that I finally understood my mother’s love for Thanksgiving. One day she came home holding two little glass figurines she’d inherited and began reminiscing …
Mom grew up during the Great Depression. Her parents owned a farm in the Midwest, so they never went hungry, but it also was rarely anything fancy. They lived off the land, so the meat they ate came from their own cows and chickens, the veggies from their own soil. Don’t get me wrong – they weren’t so far from civilization that they couldn’t buy what they needed. But if you understand all the daily chores involved with a farm – particularly back in those pre-automation days – you’ll understand why the meals were simple.
On the other end of the spectrum were mom’s grandparents. In the 30’s, everybody was struggling. But, thanks to a profitable run of bootlegging during Prohibition, these folks were settled in a nice house in the city, with some snazzy knickknacks to show for it.
Her grandmother made Thanksgivings the brightest, fanciest thing this little farm girl had ever seen.
Decades later, she could vividly describe the scene that greeted them after their long drive. The table, laid with their best china over an embroidered tablecloth, held great platters of food. Even the children used fancy goblets and every place setting included a tiny glass salt cellar. Next to the turkey sat glass carvings that held more treats and all the spaces in between were filled with colorful depression-glass bowls.
“Grandma made everything so special,” mom always said. She’d get a dreamy quality to her voice, and a private smile. Her grandmother poured her heart into making that day something the kids would always remember.
When I think back through the years at my mother’s house, it’s easy to see how that philosophy carried through. Mom planned for weeks to make that day perfect for her kids, grandkids, and eventually great- grandchildren. But if you ask them what they remember, it likely won’t be all the different courses or fancy desserts. It isn’t the pretty decorations or place settings. It’s the love that permeated that house.
Sorry if that sounds corny, but I’ve never written a more honest sentence.
Next week will be my second Thanksgiving without my mom. Every step of the planning involves a bitter battle with my heart. I’m trying to keep her memory strong by planning everything as though she was going to be sitting here with us. Crazy amount of food? Check. Fancy decorations? Sure. Family assembled? As best we can, yes.
Love? You betcha, mom. But tears, too.
The greatest memories can carry the greatest loss.