Tomorrow night, for the first time in months, both our boys will be home, everyone sleeping in their own beds under one roof.

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:

And of course pre-orders are ALWAYS appreciated. Order now, and have a book on your doorstep on January 8.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Yes, yes. Interplay of light and shadow. Indeed. Your mother reminds me of my own, who hosts with grace and ease and makes cooking 2 turkeys for 40 people look simple. She is in her element pulling off this complicated meal for many of my father’s family members. I’ve cooked it twice myself, both times for Matt’s parents, and I have to admit I really enjoyed it. But it will always be the family Thanksgiving at my parents’ house that are the central memory of this holiday for me. Thank you for reminding me what is actually the most important thing on this day: paying attention to here, and now, and this. xoxo

  2. I have had the honor of being the Thanksgiving chef for 27 of the last 33 years. (My mom was glad to pass the baster!) As with you, Katrina, there have been years with 20 and years, like this one, with a mere 7 at the table. Each year I cherish those who are present and remember fondly those who are not, and lately, with my father in law reaching 90, wondering how many more Thanksgivings like the present I will be blessed with.

    Having just survived Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage to our home and 10 days without power, I cannot help but feel amazingly blessed and grateful this year. I pray that I will never take those blessings for granted.

    Sending best wishes to all for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

  3. I just wrote a post today about how this year — my 34th on this planet — will be my sixth year roasting a turkey. Since my mom died suddenly 10 Thanksgiving Days ago, I’ve taken on this task, first begrudgingly, now willingly. Your own mother strikes me as the “club historian,” the keeper of the stories, the history, the traditions. What a treasure for your family; I hope I can fill similar shoes one day. Enjoy this time with your family!

  4. It’s going to be a beautiful two days. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  5. A beautiful reminder to pause during the busy day and feel gratitude for the tradition and memories this holiday evokes. My best to you and yours.

  6. Loved this blog! Yesterday we made our annual drive up to Syracuse NY for our Thanksgiving day feast at my inlaws home. I’ve been coming here since my husband and I first met over ten years ago. I love being part of such a tradition where it’s not acceptable to miss this day. You make it your business to be here. After a marriage, a home in the burbs and two kids later not much has changed. It’s mostly the same food (this year finally an organic bird) same political conversations and arguments, same stories told of my husband and his brother as a children and looking at old photo albums. Occasionally some new faces appear and familiar ones sadly gone. However each year becomes more and more meaningful to me.
    I have friends who spend this day on a vacation in the Caribbean or at a country club. I feel sorry for them for not having this wonderful experience and tradition. I am thankful and grateful for mine, and thankful for your beautifully written reminder of how lucky and blessed I am.
    Thank you Katrina for becoming such and inspiration in my life. Somehow you put down on paper everything I think in my head.

  7. Diane Bascom says:

    I’m thankful for the opportunity to share another Thanksgiving with my family, especially my parents and mother-in-law. Our three parents are 88, 89 and 90 years old, so we relish this special time together all the more so each year.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and your families.


  8. What a gift to begin my day reading this post. I will be all the more mindful now – thank you, Katrina! Blessings to you all! XO

  9. Kathi Russ says:

    Thank you once again Katrina for bring me to the moment, with a grateful heart.
    I didn’t make it by the 1st paragraph of your Thanksgiving words when the tears began to flow and the head to nod in agreement of so many poignant thoughts.
    I too am so happy to have my son home for the holiday, who is a junior in college now, in his own bed! My heart isn’t breaking- it is overflowing.
    Happy Day with your family,
    Kathi Russ

  10. I have tried to cook a turkey several times, but it has been a miserable failure every time. I miss my mama and her talents in the kitchen especially on Thanksgiving. It was on Thanksgiving actually that we first noticed she was having issues, after spending the day in her element, preparing our feast at the very last she turned to me and asked me “How do you make gravy?” Shortly after that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and 5 weeks after that she was gone. I am so thankful for that last Thanksgiving with her, but I do miss her so.

  11. Thank you for this. This year it was just the four of us, and as the boys played outside and I was inside cooking, I felt a bit lonely. Then I thought of your words, here, how nothing lasts, how having the four of us together was more than enough. And it was. Hope you had a wonderful day!! xoxo

  12. I just read your Thanksgiving piece after spending the past five days also enjoying family. My two children were also home. One from college and one from his new city of residence now that he is a college graduate. It was as if I had my old life back for a short time. My two children living with me again. Talking, sharing memories, dinners together, my son and I putting up the outside Christmas lights, my husband inside rebuilding his computer for my son to take home, my daughter inside reading a book and later helping me dip buckeye balls into melted chocolate. The four of us played games in the evenings, made fun of each other and laughed together. Coffee in the lazy mornings in our pajamas. It was a joy and a treasure to have all of us together again. Now they are gone and my husband and I go back to work tomorrow and all four of us fit back into our present lives which has its own joys and treasured moments…but nothing measures up to those days together at home.

  13. It’s hardly bearable to read this post, almost a full week after Thanksgiving. Its over for another year. That doesn’t mean I’m not stealing a few sentences out of this post to share on my facebook page, but it does mean that the day I looked forward to, has come and gone.
    When my mom died over 18 years ago my big family holiday meals around my parent’s table went away. I literally grieved for it, every year, for many years. Then we moved closer to the in-laws for five years (literally around the bend from your house!). It was glorious to visit her Thanksgiving House, and eat her amazing food, a turkey I didn’t cook.
    Now we are ‘on our own’ again, as we’ve moved way out West. But I loved making the meal this year. Me, the one who generally hates to cook, loved every second of preparing food for my four tall, almost-grown kiddos and my ‘NY daughter’ who had come to visit.
    By next Tgiving two will have moved out of my house to start their adult lives. I may not have either of them at my table. I cannot think about it or I will weep, so instead I treasure the fresh memories we made this year. The cheater turkey (just a breast!) and the simple sides.
    Thank you for making me slow down enough to remember how wonderful it was, just a week ago, and how much I treasure each laugh and each memory.
    I’m so glad you had another wonderful family dinner this year Katrina. Here’s to many, many more.

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