With Thanksgiving upon us, it is time to take a short break from speaking about divorce and instead take a little time for celebration and thankfulness. Earlier this week over dinner the topic of conversation was thinking back and sharing about our favorite Thanksgiving memories. My Mother is down visiting for the holiday and she shared a favorite memory involving her spending time with her Grandfather and other relatives. My daughter shared a similar favorite that involved a Thanksgiving spent in my parent’s house next to a pond and forest with family. Whether you celebrate it with extended family, a circle of friends, or a little more quietly, it is an opportunity to slow down a little and celebrate what is important to you. I love all the delicious food and variety of dishes that is part of our tradition on Thanksgiving Day, then I love trying to fit all the leftovers into a day after Thanksgiving sandwich that is almost as delicious as the Thanksgiving meal itself. What traditions do you have that make Thanksgiving special? What is your favorite memory from Thanksgivings past?
When I was growing up my Mother’s side of the family would converge at a little cabin my great Grandfather had built just outside Sequoia National Park in a town called Three Rivers. It was about a five hour drive from our house and the whole family (there were 9 of us) would pile into our station wagon. When you are child number 5 of 7 you are relegated to the very back seat of the vehicle and our station wagon had my two younger brothers and I looking directly backward as the long winding mountain roads fell into the distance for what seemed like forever. My oldest brother had wrestled the music controls from my Father, saving us from his elevator genre of music and we listened to Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, The Eagles, and Styx, to name a few. How we were able to get all 9 of us in with all our Thanksgiving fixings and gear remains a mystery to me.
On average there would be about 40 relatives who would take up residence in this rustic, two bedroom place situated on about an acre of land at the base of some rolling hills. When I was young it would include my great grandfather, my grandparents on my Mother’s side, my Mom’s four siblings, and their children. The cabin had two small bedrooms but the main portion of the cabin was a large living room with a fireplace. At night the living room was wall to wall sleeping bags as we all found a small plot of land upon which to sleep. If you had to use the restroom in the middle of the night it was an adventure finding places to step over the maze of bodies and sleeping bags in the dark. Inevitably someone would get stepped on mistakenly in the night. Once things settled down there were a couple of bats that used to live in the rafters that we could spot flying about as we lay nestled in our sleeping bags looking up toward the ceiling.
Part of our Thanksgiving activities included a quail hunt that would culminate in a quail stew that would supplement our traditional Thanksgiving meal. I have fond memories of traipsing around the hills alongside my Grandfather, my Father and other members of the hunting party, flushing out quail along the way. One year we roasted a pig on a spit over an open fire. I remember the table in the kitchen being piled with turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, yams, ribbon salad, cranberries, scalloped potatoes, fresh rolls, and gravy to bring it all together. The desserts had their own assigned table, again that was standing room only. So much delicious food.
Thanksgiving morning included the tradition of us gathering the troops and heading down to a pasture just down the road from the cabin where we would work up our appetites with a big game of football. The field was usually wet and muddy and after doing battle we would all head back to the cabin; filthy, hungry and happy.
After dinner us kids would all head out for the grand finale which involved us dividing into two teams for a buckeye fight. All around in the fields near the cabin were buckeye trees. In autumn these trees would yield a harvest of buckeyes, which are large nuts, with a large hard fruit that would fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. Throughout the day we would gather caches of the buckeyes and would squirrel them away in hidden spots that we could access during the battle. They were hard and could really hurt so the rule was you had to aim below the belt. They would explode impressively when they would hit a nearby rock. We had to make all the preparations for the buckeye fight clandestinely as it was not an event sanctioned by the adults. The buckeye fight would typically come to a screeching halt when someone would let go an errant buckeye that would hit somewhere above the belt, resulting in the child crying into the cabin to seek aid. Before the adults had time to come catch the culprits, we had all scattered and hidden, nowhere to be found.
After dark children and adults would gather in the living room around the fireplace for a very animated game of charades. I can’t really think of a happier place to be than around the warmth of the fire with my cousins, and the love of all the family in this little space. Whenever we had a fancy to do so we could head over to the dessert table and grab a piece of pie piled with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to nibble on during the evening’s action.
One of my most vivid memories of my Great Grandfather is him sitting in a chair beside the fireplace that he had built, looking at the fire as the reflection of the flames danced on his spectacles. He was the happiest man in the World surrounded by generations that had all began with him. I looked on, just a kid, in awe of this man who had built this simple place for us all to gather.
I am thankful I had such a place to go to that made for such wonderful opportunities to connect with extended family, and to be so immersed in nature’s beauty. There was tons of food and lots of action but at the heart of it all Thanksgiving has always just been a time to pause and appreciate the simple things that make life special. I am no longer climbing into the back of a station wagon to experience Thanksgiving in an old, rustic cabin, but wherever I find myself I will take the opportunity to be thankful for the opportunity I have. Tackling life’s challenges can wait for another day.