I have many memories of Thanksgiving. I am the youngest of seven children and my earliest Thanksgiving memories involve squeezing nine people around a too-small table in a too-small room and making short work of a large turkey, oodles of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Afterward, we’d watch the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game. Later still, we’d go back for turkey sandwiches and finish off the bird. Looking back at my earliest memories of Thanksgiving, I gain a greater appreciation of my mother. When I was younger, I never fully appreciated the effort she put into holiday preparations. But now I see more. She organized the whole affair, cooked much of the food, and said the prayers at the table. The prayers were important. She made sure that we knew Thanksgiving wasn’t just about food; it was about being thankful. Thankful for plentiful food, a house to shelter in, and most of all a loving mother and family to care for you. Unfortunately, my mother passed away several years ago, but I still find her memory in the holidays of this season.
We kids have all grown up now, but we are trying to continue with the tradition. Most of my brothers and sisters have children of their own, and are doing their best to inspire a whole new generation with Thanksgiving memories.
We’ve moved the festival from my parents’ house to one of my sisters’. For the last few years, my memories of Thanksgiving can be described with a single word: chaos. We now gather-my dad, all the kids and their respective families-into a single house. Picture this, if you can, twenty four people ranging from two years old to eighty, crammed into two small rooms around a couple of tables, elbow to elbow. There is barely room to walk around or push back your chair. The din is constant. Voices move back and forth across the table, spinning a tapestry from the threads of varied conversations. It is both confusing and exhilarating. We catch up on what is happening in each other’s lives; the children giggle with laughter. It is a room filled with happiness and joy.
The feast-because no other word describes it adequately-consists of at least one, sometimes two turkeys, a couple large bowls of mashed potatoes, stuffing galore, cranberries, and a variety of other dishes. Each of the adults brings a dish; I usually bring some of the mashed potatoes. My brother-in-law, in addition to his regular dish, brings home made horseradish. He got me hooked on it a few years back. It has a kick that’ll clear your sinuses and make your eyes water. As far as I am concerned, the horseradish has become a staple of the meal and will be forever ingrained in my memories of Thanksgiving for years to come.
Above the general chaos and mayhem of the dinner, however, is a feeling of familial love. Only now, as an adult, do I fully understand what that means. Indeed, the chaos seems to me, to be a sort of expression of that love and an integral part of the holiday. Without it, Thanksgiving would be strangely empty. And because of it, I can more fully appreciate the efforts of my mother in earlier seasons. It is quite a feat to extract order from chaos. Indeed, throughout the chaos of the holidays, I am convinced that my mother is looking down from heaven with a knowing smile.