Memories of Thanksgivings Past

Tomorrow, Thursday November 26, is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a day for family, food, and football.

My first ten Thanksgivings were spent on my mother’s family horse ranch in Oklahoma. I remember when I was a kid that family all would gather in the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. Mom would bake some fresh cinnamon buns and then put a huge turkey in the oven to roast. She would have “assignments” for all of us kids to help prepare the rest of the meal, from appetizers to yams & veggies to pumpkin pie & desserts and everything in between. While our family kitchen wasn’t huge, somehow 10 or 20 of us would manage to find a place to “be” in or near the kitchen as we proceeded through the day’s rituals. We would talk, joke with each other, laugh, share stories, and continue that bond that made us a family. I remember those days fondly.

When things got too crowded in the kitchen, some of us would go into the parlor and listen to my grandmother play the piano, sing old-style hymns in her soft lilting voice, or listen raptly as she would tell us about life on the Choctaw lands of her youth. Some of the guys would turn on the television to watch football games. That was a big deal, because we didn’t have television in rural Oklahoma until 1963. Before that, they would either listen to the radio or go outside and toss the ball around among each other.

For me, not being a football kinda guy, I would saddle up my horse and join some family members for a ride in the soft forest and hills of Kiamichi Country (Southestern Oklahoma.) We would pick mistletoe and listen to the crunch of fallen leaves under the hoofs of our horses or our boots when we got off to water the horses or hike a bit.

Yes, I have very fond memories of Thanksgiving in Oklahoma, where I spent every autumn of my childhood while my father was in Europe for his work.

At 3:00, we all would huddle around the telephone in the parlor and listen for my Dad to call. This was a big deal — a super long-distance call from Europe to rural Oklahoma was not an easy feat. But Dad always made it happen, and took time to speak with each of us and let us know he missed and loved us.

After sharing our call with Dad, the family would gather in the dining room, parlor, or porch to have dinner. Family included my grandmother, my mother’s sister and her children, as well as most of my siblings and their spouses (and later, their children). Our challenge was that with such a large family, we all could not be seated at the same table at the same time. There were some years that we had some 40 people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. However, my family never forced the youngest children to have to sit at the “kids table” away from the others. We had a fair and even method of distributing the seating, so that some years us little kids could be seated at the main table, while other years, we got to toss rolls at or to each other while seated out-of-sight on the service porch. I never felt mistreated just because I was about the youngest child among our clan.

I recall that my grandmother would be asked to say grace, and she would do so in a firm but soft manner. We all would hold hands and when she was through asking for God’s Blessings, we then went around the room and each member of the family would be asked to say why they were thankful this year. This process could take a long time, but it was welcome, warmly appreciated, and valued (though the rumbling of stomachs could be heard as the process rolled on, so those toward the end of the Thanksgiving chain were compelled to make it brief.)

I remember one year, in particular, when I was feeling rather left out and ignored that one of my sisters spoke up during our round of Giving Thanks and thanked me — little guy me — for doing something for her. I was shocked and amazed, because not an hour earlier we had been engaged in one of those typical sibling rivalry arguments. Her singling me out for thanks really proved to me what family is all about, and that we can forget squabbles and appreciate each other, and love one another. Truly, I was blessed with a wonderful family and I don’t forget. I will never forget. I can’t forget (they won’t let me!)

Things today have changed, morphed, moved, and rearranged. I will blog about this year’s Thanksgiving at our home tomorrow. Check back.

Meanwhile, whether you celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving or are from somewhere else in the world where Thanksgiving is not your holiday, I request that you remember to Give Thanks — to your spouse or partner, your parents and grandparents if still alive, your family, your friends, and to God. There is much to be thankful for, and we should remember that…

Life is short: show those you love that you love them.