Growing up with a small but close-knit family, Thanksgiving was a BIG deal, and as with most families, a lot of it was riding on the shoulders of the women. Between Mom, Aunt Terry and my two grandmothers, a lot of gut-busting spreads filled tables ... and side tables and buffet tables and counter space, too.
Everyone in the family had "their" signature contributions, too. For Mom it was her pecan and pumpkin pies and dressing; for Grandma (Dad's mom) it was fruit salad, and if we're being honest, she wasn't much of a cook, but loved making it and I liked it, as a kid, so she got delight in that. My aunt was in charge of the turkey and for Bima (Mom's Mom) it was the cranberry relish (was was more dessert than side dish, you ask me). My sister, as she came of age, was in charge of the deviled eggs, and then "deep frying" turkeys became "the thing," my Dad and Uncle Randy took the turkey cooking on.
First, it was my uncle who passed in 2001. My aunt passed five years later, and my mom five more years later, in 2011. Last August, we lost Bima, and Grandma's well into her 90s now and cared for by my Dad's twin brother, Uncle Don.
You lose that much family and holidays like Thanksgiving become virtual shells of their former selves. Life passes you fast, like that; I've gone from being the kid who got up to tune the "rabbit ears" to watch the Thanksgiving parades ... to the awkward pre-teen who didn't see Mom had put pies in the backseat of the car for the trip to Aunt Terry & Uncle Randy's house. That awkward teen half-sat in a pumpkin pie, and through our last 'family' Thanksgiving more than six years ago, when the pies were served, someone invariably would ask if I'd "christened" them. Ha. Ha. Now I'm the middle-aged guy who'd pay a ransom to travel back in time to enjoy just one more Thanksgiving with them all again.
Looking back, only once while they were all alive did I miss out on Thanksgiving with "the family." That was just because of work obligations and my being in Mobile, Alabama, while they were all in Augusta, Georgia. It was nice to go have dinner with a co-worker and his large welcoming family, but it wasn't the same.
It never is.
So about six months after Mom passed, I met Ethan; each Thanksgiving before this one, we'd dart back to be with his family (I first met them all for Thanksgiving in 2011 ... awkward) and to see my two grandmothers for some semblance of tradition. This year's the first that we couldn't get away (not my job's fault!) so instead, we enjoyed Thanksgiving with one of his co-worker's parents who graciously hosted us and some other co-workers of theirs. It was really nice. The food. The company. The jokes. Very warm and familial.
Maybe that's what's so cool about Thanksgiving, though; whether you have a lot of family or can or can't be with them, there almost always seems to be an inviting table and chair (and tonight place cards) waiting for you if you look hard enough.
They get harder as you get older and have fewer loved ones to spend them with, but they can still be warm and inviting days (free from the insanity of the retail hellscape - sorry, not my thing; can we not be materialistic just one day?). Anyhow, for that, I'm thankful.