“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” ~Cicero
As a little kid, I remember wondering: ‘what’s so special about Thanksgiving Day?’ I learned at school it had to do with Indians and Pilgrims sharing a special meal long ago, but I didn’t understand how this related to our celebration of Thanksgiving.
Our Thanksgiving looked much like that of the Indian and Pilgrim scene. We had the Indians [i.e., three generations of Indian women: my stepmother and her sister, their mother and aunt, and their grandmother], and the pale-faced men [i.e., the men who had married into the family, one of which was my fair-skinned, blonde-headed Dad], and a table filled with a plethora of food [so much food that the women would say every year after the meal: ‘we still have enough food left over to feed an army!’]
But our Thanksgiving was not a one-day event; it began shortly after Halloween with the women’s frenzy over meal planning. On and on the conversation would go:
Last year ‘NO ONE’ ate the green beans!
Maybe we should add bacon and onions to them . . .
No, we should have creamed corn instead . . .
Let’s do mincemeat pie again . . . Jimmy and Benny liked it – both went back for seconds!
Arguing one minute over one another’s recall of last year’s food inventory and in the next debating if they should make more enchiladas than last year or make tamales as well, which then led to the pros and cons of tamales – and whether the tamales should be made with or without raisins. This endless debating over the all-important menu made no sense to me given that, year after year, the menu was predictably the same.
During the week of Thanksgiving, the focus shifted to the buying, refrigerating, and preparing of the food. Those of us who no longer lived in the Grandparent’s large, two-story house arrived for our weekend stay on Thanksgiving Eve – just in time for the women to gather in the kitchen to bake the pies and discuss the food preparation, which always started with ‘how early does the turkey need to be put on in the morning?’ If they had asked me (which they never did, and I knew better than to volunteer my opinion), I would have said: ‘the same time as last year, and every previous year.’
Thanksgiving Day started at the crack of dawn with the smell of bacon and eggs frying, cinnamon-coated French Toast cooking, coffee brewing, the sounds of pots, pans, silverware, and dishes clanging . . . and the women shouting:
Rosie, get the roasting pan from the service porch!
Delores, cook the onions for the dressing!
And eventually, an even louder shout: Breakfast is ready – come get it while it’s hot!
The men and the children were then fed in shifts. Afterwards, both the men and boys would vanish – the boys to play outside and the men I didn’t know to where – maybe to the back summerhouse or the garage. At lunchtime, they reappeared to eat, only to vanish again until the Thanksgiving meal was about to be served. As for me, I had my orders for the day: ‘Keep an eye on your sister’ [who was profoundly mentally disabled; she could walk but not talk]. I was more than glad to take myself and Patty out of the noisy commotion of the hot, stuffy, crowded kitchen into the silent, calm of the empty rooms in the rest of the house. I was free to visit, at will, all day long, the numerous dishes of See’s Candy and Planter’s Mixed Nuts that were sitting around the house.
It was always a lo-o-o-o-ng day that seemingly was never going to end. Finally, when the call came: ‘Susie, time to help set the table,’ I experienced both relief and an overwhelming dread: the day was finally coming to an end, but first I would be expected to eat hardily of the feast that the women had worked so hard to put on the table. Stuffed to the gills with my day-long sampling of See’s Candy and Planter’s Nuts, the thought of this made my already sick stomach feel sicker.
With the table filled with every food dish imaginable, we all filed into the dining room to take our usual places: the grandmother sat at the end, closest to the kitchen door, and the grandfather at the other end. We all waited for the ‘opening ritual’ to be completed: the passing of the grandfather’s plate down to the grandmother where she, assisted by the other women, would fuss over putting a drumstick onto his plate before proudly sending it back to him. Then, the ‘dance of the plates’ would begin. It was a sight to see. Sick to my stomach or not, I watched with amusement as serving dishes went every which way as eager family members shouted out what they wanted as they reached, pointed, passed, tossed, and grabbed food to fill their plates. And my Dad, I guess thinking this year might be different than the last, would make another futile attempt to traffic control by waving his arm and saying: ‘Pass everything counter-clock wise!’
And so it went, year after year . . . until the Thanksgiving when ‘the beans were spilled.’ Newly married, my husband was sitting next to me. The table was filled with food as always. By then, I had come to know and appreciate the specialness of Thanksgiving Day as a day set aside for ‘giving thanks.’ Saying grace at meals wasn’t a consideration for the family – even on this day — so I began to pray on my own silently, and suspected my husband was doing the same. The ritual of passing the grandfather’s plate had started. By the time it got down to the grandmother, for some reason which I wasn’t clear about, the women had gotten into a huff with each other about the drumstick. Then, it happened. The grandfather who, I had heard, at most, utter only ten words (and always under his breath) in the time I had known him, bellowed: ‘I NEVER LIKED THE DAMN DRUMSTICK ANYWAY!’ A bolt of lightning had struck; the women froze – and went silent. They passed his plate back to him — empty. All of us ate very little. It was the quietest and shortest Thanksgiving meal ever (as far as I knew) in the family history. The grandfather passed away before the next Thanksgiving.
Life is too precious and too short to not consciously grow into its fullness.
As we Age, it is essential that we soulfully reflect back on our significant life experiences in order to ‘update’ our present reality with the gift of new insights. As we do this, meaningful patterns of growth and transformation emerge, which allows us to see our life journey from a broader perspective of unfolding wholeness and completion.
While writing these Thanksgiving reflections, I have been surprised and challenged by many new insights that deepen my understanding, compassion, and appreciation for family members and my unfolding life. Two of which are:
1.] The women genuinely wanted the family Thanksgiving to be special and they believed it was their role to make it happen. To them, Abundant Food equaled Abundant Love, so they gave abundantly of themselves, thinking that they were putting Thanksgiving’s ‘special ingredient’ on the table.
2.] My young Soul, awake to truths that my conscious mind did not yet conceive, knew that what was being presented as a special, happy family gathering was, in fact, not such. It alerted my mind to wonder: ‘What is so special about Thanksgiving?’ and thus put me on the path to eventually discovering . . .
Thanksgiving’s special ingredient is not in what’s on the table but rather what happens in and between the Souls around the table. When we gather in communion, be it with family, friends, or strangers, to humbly bow our heads and lift up our hearts in thanks-giving to our Creator, our Souls taste and rejoice in the sacredness of our common humanity, being one in our Creator, and knowing the delicious sweetness of this feast day.
May you be encouraged to do your own “reflection work.” The effort is definitely worth it. I would love to hear your story or hear what insights emerge for you over this Thanksgiving holiday.