Thanksgiving Blessings!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!
So, today is the big day....Thanksgiving, Turkey Day.....the day of parades, football, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and of course turkey.    Have you ever found yourself longing for those days  gone by...... those holidays that were something out of a Hallmark movie, the ones that seem merely a memory, never to again be a reality?  Now don't get me wrong, Thanksgiving is always celebrated in my family and always involves delicious food, family, at least a little of the parade. Thankfully we skip the football portion in our house.  (Thank God for that!!) We always celebrate our blessings with food and family, but for me Thanksgiving is never quite as special as it was when I was a kid.

From the earliest I can remember, we celebrated holidays at my maternal grandmother and grandfather's house.  They lived in a small cape-cod styled house in Rotterdam.  The house was lovely but my grandmother had a love affair with food - growing food, cooking food, eating food and feeding the flock food - lots of food.  She excelled at all of these which made the tiny kitchen in her cape inadequate in every sense of her imagination.  In fact, I don't think she ever once cooked in that kitchen, at least not as long as I knew her.   Instead they made the entire basement of their home into a living area consisting of a 1950's open-concept kitchen/living area - 1/2 kitchen, 1/2 living room.   The basement also had a cold cellar for storing the summer's harvest.  Here in this 'workable' kitchen, Gram could cook to her heart's content preparing "traditional holiday feasts".

As you can imagine, this pseudo kitchen/dining area was still a basement.  It was not sheet-rocked like finished basements of today.  It was not carpeted or fancy and it definitely lacked bright sunshine and the things home buyers are seeking on those cable tv shows.  It was painted foundation blocks, fluorescent lights and a simple space with long counters, a stove, fridge, sink, and table and chairs on one side and living room furniture and t.v. on the other.    Oh.......and a huge chest freezer on one wall, because everyone knows real cooks need a big freezer, right?    Over the freezer hanging on the wall was a huge immortalized marlin my Gramps caught while deep-sea fishing.  You're probably thinking that this doesn't sound like a very fancy place for this Hallmark Thanksgiving I speak of and you're right, it sure didn't look like a Hallmark movie in decor.   Yet, those are the Thanksgivings that I hold most dear, the memories that make any Thanksgiving since pale in comparison.
Since my grandmother liked (loved) to cook, she also embodied the phrase, "The More, The Merrier" so her house was the place everyone went on Thanksgiving (and Easter too).  My paternal grandparents came, and some aunts and uncles too.  It didn't matter how large the flock, it was easy adding a second table and more chairs.  My grandmother only knew how to cook for a crowd anyway, that's just how she was.  I don't know if that happened after living through the depression where food was sparse, but these days food was never sparse and there was always enough for more. While my grandfather would spend the morning deer hunting, my grandmother would work in the kitchen preparing the 'feast'.....all of it.  We'd arrive mid-day just about the time my Gramps would be returning from the hunt - the one he'd gotten up before dawn for.  Without a nap or a breathe, Gramps would sit down and peel warm roasted chestnuts - not for himself or the cook, but for me, his granddaughter.  He knew I loved them.  I'll always remember that because it always seemed such a generous gesture and always felt like an act of love.  I still love roasted chestnuts and still hate peeling them. Soon everyone would arrive and join us in our basement dining room.
There were no candles or holiday decor.  There were no cloth napkins or maybe not even table cloths.  What there was was a lot of family and enough food to serve a small army.  There was always a big turkey, maybe a ham, and always some Italian side dish.   Of course there was mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a plethora of vegetables, gravy, cream cheese and olive stuffed celery, and of course dessert.  Everyone would eat till they could burst and when we were done, most of the bowls and platters of food looked nearly untouched.  My Gram would exclaim, "Nobody ate anything!"  Yes, that's how it may have looked, but our bellies knew otherwise.

After dinner some of the guest would retire to the other side of the room and watch some tv, but most sat around the table visiting.  While these holidays were full of family, I was always the only child.  There were no cousins in our immediate family.  So unlike holidays pictured on tv or perhaps your holidays, there were no rambunctious kids running around, it was always only me.  That was ok, because as the only child I'm pretty sure I got a lot of attention from all my adult relatives.  It was also special that most years I got to stay at my grandparents when my folks went home that night.  It was sort of a tradition that I would spend a couple of nights there over the holiday break.  Kids didn't do sleepovers back then, so these occasions were a special privilege since they meant special treats and treasured time with Gram and Gramps.  I can still envision breakfast the next morning - again in the basement.  I remember the smell of coffee brewing and the distinctly delicious taste of toast dipped in my Gram's coffee. I can still smell my Gram frying a sunny-side egg.  Funny how some sensory experiences stay with you.

Somewhere in my teens, my mom took over the Thanksgiving responsibilities.  My mom is also a wonderful cook and our home was always cozy and welcoming - a place where family and friends loved to be.  The same guests would be in attendance, the food as delicious although more appropriately portioned for the size of the crowd......and still a wonderful holiday.  When I got married, not wanting to have to take turns with my family or his, I took over Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Obviously the food was not quite as amazing, the space was more cramped in an apartment, but what I lacked in those areas I tried to make up for in detail.  Over the years the people in attendance has changed.  Relatives have passed, our dad's are gone, aunts and uncles are gone.

Our holidays now consist of immediately family only.  Now that my daughter and her family are in Indiana, our Thanksgiving is down to 5 people, me, John, my mom, my eldest daughter and my son-in-law ...... not exactly a Hallmark card or movie, not exactly the holidays I remember.  While I admit it makes me a little sad to have seen holidays evolve and become so small and understated, I cannot ignore the fact that I have an abundance of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful that unlike many, I have these years - all of my years - of holiday memories.  I'm thankful for all the people who were part of those memories who were a regular presence in my life, not just on holidays.  I'm thankful for my mom who is still in good health and able to enjoy her life independently.  I'm thankful for two beautiful, successful daughters who married wonderful men and are living happy, productive lives.  I'm thankful for my granddaughters who, although no longer present in my day-to-day life, bring me more joy than I thought possible.  I'm thankful for a husband who has stood by me for 36 years of marriage, who is by my side always, regardless of how crazy life becomes, how many photo excursions I drag him on, or how many detours life throws in our path.  I'm thankful to be retired and able to enjoy these years together while we're still young enough to appreciate and enjoy them. blessings are plentiful and today when I serve our roasted chicken instead of turkey, we'll have all the fixin's. And though we'll be missing our Indiana family, our dads, and the previous generation, we'll take a moment and be grateful for each other and our many blessings.  Life may not be what it used to be, but it evolves and I'm hopeful that one day down the road, the circle of life will evolve and I will be the grandparent peeling chestnuts for my grandchildren and the room will be bustling with activity again.  Until then.....I bid you a bountiful Thanksgiving, one that reminds you to be thankful for what you have and not too sad as you remember those who are missing from your dinner table today.  Lastly, I'm thankful for all of you who read my blog and give me the opportunity to share my thoughts, my photos and my stories.  Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!
2016 Post Script:  My Indiana family has moved back to NY this year!!!!  This gives me so much more to be thankful for.  Not only are they back in NY, they have purchased a house right down the street!  Life does evolve and I look forward to a Thanksgiving with the whole family once again!

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