And on Thursday afternoon we will gather round the table at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner with the whole extended family. For well over forty years, with barely a miss, I’ve spent Thanksgiving in that very same kitchen, have eaten my dad’s grilled turkey and homemade ice cream, my mom’s pumpkin pie and peas and mashed potatoes. The cast of characters around the table has changed over time, of course. Various cousins and aunts and uncles and significant others and spouses have made entrances and exits. Dear loved ones have passed on and dear little ones have been born and grown up. And, along the way, each one of us has created our own enduring memories: brisk walks in the woods; skating on the pond (long, long ago, when there was ice in November); a fiance’s first appearance at the table; a grandfather’s final one; a grandmother’s last apple pie; a baby who is suddenly grown-up enough to sit with the adults; a sullen teenager miraculously transformed into a mature and engaging young man; an aunt and uncle determined to make a trip all the way from Florida so as not to miss dinner.
What’s been constant however, through all those decades, through all those comings and goings and births and deaths, is the house that somehow contains us all, the stories that get retold year after year as the plates are passed, and the presence in that house of my parents who, even as they’re rounding the corner toward eighty, still manage to make a Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings look effortless.
Each year, when my mother gets out her old gravy-stained notebook and begins her Thanksgiving countdown (pretty much the same to-do list, whether there are going to be 8 of us at the table or 38, as there occasionally were in the old days), she pulls out the crayoned drawing my cousin Paul made thirty-five years ago, when he was seven, the one that says: “I love going to the Thanksgiving house.” My mom cherishes that faded picture; she always sticks it up on the refrigerator, where she can see it as she cooks. And then, three days before we all show up for dinner, she gets busy, shopping for groceries, making stock, setting the table, brining the bird.
My parents are the keepers of the sugar and creamer set shaped like turkeys (which always sort of grossed out my Uncle Chet, who didn’t like to see his cream pouring out of a ceramic gobbler). They have the ice cream maker, the pie servers, the turkey platter, the covered dishes, the baster and twine, the big cutting board and carving set, plenty of dishes and silverware to go around. The tried-and-true recipes, annotated for crowds. The notes my mom has kept, religiously, about who came to dinner and what was said and who was missed this year.
Even after all this time, my mother and father are happy to put the meal on the table for the rest of us – grown children, spouses, grandchildren, and assorted invited guests. All we have to do is show up and appreciate the gifts they gladly offer — not only the food but, even more important, a spacious day of togetherness. And so it happens that once again this week, my family will come together in the house that has always been home base for all of us. At the same time I can’t help but think: It will not always be so.
At 54 years of age, I have yet to cook a turkey myself. Somehow, thanks to my mom’s dedicated service in the Thanksgiving house decade after decade, it’s a rite of passage I’ve managed to avoid. But the day will arrive when the baster will need to be passed. I think I’m going to take myself out of the running. Henry is going over to his grandmother’s house tomorrow afternoon to give her a hand with the potatoes and the squash. He knows the drill, and I have a feeling he would be honored to inherit my mom’s Thanksgiving notebook when the time comes.
For now, though, I don’t want to contemplate the future, but to fully immerse myself in the present. Two grown sons both at home tomorrow night. A couple of too-short days of togetherness. Time set aside to slow down and take stock of all that is good. For gratitude, as we all know, is not a given but rather a way of being to be cultivated. It doesn’t come packaged like the Stouffer’s stuffing mix nor is it ensured by the name of the holiday. No, real “thanksgiving” requires us to pause long enough to feel the earth beneath our feet, to gaze up into the spaciousness of the sky above, and to stop and take a good, long, loving look at the precious faces sitting across from us at the dinner table.
Life can turn on a dime. Not one of us knows, ever, what fate has in store, or what challenges await just around the bend. But I do know this: nothing lasts. Life is an interplay of light and shadow, blessings and losses, moments to be endured and moments I would give anything to live again. I will never get them back, of course, can never re-do the moments I missed or the ones I still regret, any more than I can recapture the moments I desperately wanted to hold onto forever. I can only remind myself to stay awake, to pay attention, and to say my prayer of thanks for the only thing that really matters: this life, here, now.
I’d love to know: What are you grateful for today, here, now?
Friends: My new book Magical Journey will be in the stores in early January — just weeks away. In the meantime, I’ll post all the news, including where I’ll be and when, on my new Author page on Facebook. I would love it if you’d “LIKE” me there: http://www.facebook.com/kkenisonbooks
And of course pre-orders are ALWAYS appreciated. Order now, and have a book on your doorstep on January 8.