Thanksgiving memories offer array of family traditions
It’s during the holidays that one seems to most miss those people now absent but once large in our lives. During the recent Thanksgiving celebration, my daughter hosted us at her home along with other family members and friends. I enjoyed it because she cooked the turkey and cleaned up while all I had to do was to make some pies and some other sides. While getting together is always fun, I always feel a little sad that my son and his family live so far away and seldom are there to interact with those present. I’ve spent several holidays with him and his family, but then I miss those who live near me. And, of course, there are my husband’s sister and my brother and sister and their children who are scattered to the four winds.
By the time most people reach my age, they have memories of many Thanksgivings spent with various combinations of family members. As a child, I lived with my parents and siblings near my mother’s large family in western Kansas. We spent many of our holidays at my grandparents’ home in Hugoton. Because Mother had one brother and four sisters who all lived in the vicinity, those family dinners were filled with people. I remember being placed at a separate table with my siblings and cousins within sight and sometimes reach of the grown-ups at their own table. These get-togethers were fun and important for us in getting to know our family dynamics. Here I could see how my mother interacted with her parents and siblings. She would get hurt easily when she thought that her mother gave preference to one of her sisters. We would hear about the insult to her, not at the time, but over and over again when we were on the way home.
My grandparents loved canasta, bridge and all kinds of card games — something abhorred by my father. Nevertheless, at almost every family gathering, the cards came out and the men began to play. My eldest aunt, Alice, was usually helping the others female family members with the clean-up, but her stoic husband, Uncle Price, and my father, reluctant card players at best, were always pulled into the action — often a lively poker game. There amidst laughter and joking, Uncle Price sat expressionless, putting down whatever he had with no attempt to compete, and my father, grim-faced, played to win, but usually didn’t. My other uncles got into the spirit of the game and joked and laughed. My grandfather had a face that could always be described as a poker face and didn’t smile much. He held his cards close to his vest and often won. My father often suspected him of cheating — but didn’t dare speak out. I always doubted that Grandpa cheated, but figured he was a really shrewd dealmaker. Of course, Uncle Price and my father didn’t really enjoy their experiences with the other men present, but they endured them in deference to family peace.
As interesting as these interactions and behaviors were, I was even more fascinated by the different varieties of food. My Aunt Dixie, the youngest and supposedly the most pampered, always brought something fashionable enough to be in a magazine. As a matter of fact, it probably had been a dish once photographed and touted. When Aunt Maureen was there, the dish would reflect the cuisine of where she was currently living with her oil field geologist husband. Her best dishes reflected New Orleans recipes. And there were the pies — rows of them. My favorite as a child was pumpkin — at least until I ate too much of one once and became sick. It was years before I could look at a pumpkin pie after that. But, I still remember the occasion with fondness.
The size and make-up of our family gatherings have changed a great deal through the years, but family and friends are always part of them. I am now one of the senior members of the parties. Children and young adults weave in and out of the holiday gatherings, and I watch them remembering the time when I was one of them. My parents, my grandparents and all of my aunts on my mother’s side of the family have passed on now, so my husband and I represent the eldest generation. I sometimes wonder what those youngsters will remember about the holiday when they have reached my present step on life’s journey.