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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Thanksgiving signals transition

By Stacy Turner

In November, the change in weather indicates the end of the year will soon arrive.  We prepare for a transition from autumn into the coming winter and with it, the beginning of a fresh new year.  Crisp weather and the last of the fall colors give us hope as winter’s frigid fingers grab hold.  Snow will follow, covering late summer’s beauty under its protective blanket for a much-needed rest.  This transition reminds us that although autumn is ending and winter arrives, change is constant, and spring will return once again.  

Growing up, the Thanksgiving meal took place between noon and one in the afternoon, meaning mom rose extra early to stuff the 20+ pound turkey and get it in the oven.  All morning, the kitchen was a flurry of activity as each of us were pressed into service when we entered the kitchen, bleary eyed and looking for Cheerios.  As the Macy’s parade droned on in the background, there were potatoes and rutabaga to be peeled and ‘good’ dishes to be set, and absolutely no time to dawdle.  During most of the year, desserts were rare, so those offered at Thanksgiving were highly anticipated.  A variety of special pies and cakes sat waiting for us when the dishes had been washed and the kitchen had been restored to order.  The weekend was filled with board games and visits with family, where gangs of cousins ran around grandma’s house making noise, while uncles smoked and played penny poker until their wives told them it was time to go home. 

Time moved forward, whether we wanted it to or not, and visits to grandma’s house became a happy memory.  My siblings, cousins, and I transitioned through the next stages of lives, forging new traditions as we said goodbye to loved ones and welcomed new people into the circle of family.  Today, my kids’ experience of Thanksgiving is much different than my childhood.  But in spite of the differences, the important things remain.

We spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s extended family, a much smaller group than the extended family of my childhood.  But every room in the house is filled to capacity, as everyone traveled hours from home to gather.  The actual meal takes place between five and six pm, and the more relaxed schedule gives my mother-in-law (and anyone willing to help) all day to prepare.  Like in childhood, dessert takes place after dishes are cleared, but it’s very different from the desserts of my youth.  While my mother-in-law insists on baking a pumpkin pie for traditions sake, the majority don’t eat it. Instead, kids and grandkids fight over chipped teacups filled to the rim with butterscotch or chocolate pudding.  It’s the kind from a box mix, and before serving, each cup is topped with an abundant mound of whipped topping from a tub.  Cups of pudding, on trays stacked two layers high, occupy an entire shelf in her extra refrigerator.  Over the weekend when the stash of pudding is depleted, in lieu of baked goods, they move on to a variety of flavors of ice cream – there’s no shortage of calcium in this family tree.  While these new holidays differ from those I enjoyed as a kid, they’re still similar in many important ways.  The weekend is still filled with laughter, good food, and time spent with family. 

As our little family has grown, holiday gatherings are evolving, too.  My girls, as the youngest cousins, have watched as their older counterparts moved forward through college, to jobs, and toward families of their own.  And once again, just like the holidays of youth changed, our family’s holiday gatherings have begun to transition.  Attendance at Grandma’s over the last few holidays has dwindled, due to illnesses and conflicting work schedules, and whether cheap flights are available. And just as November signals the end of a year, Thanksgiving marks changes in the ways we gather.  Although I miss the holidays when my girls and their cousins were small, I won’t get bogged down by where we gather, who can make it, or even what we eat.  I plan to take time to appreciate those I’m blessed to be with right now.  After all, the only certainty is change.

So as Thanksgiving draws near and we look ahead as another year will soon come to a close, I’m blessed that despite the transitions, the important things remain constant.  The holiday will still be spent with family, lots of laughter, and plenty to eat, just like it was when I was young.  And whether your family gathering is large or small, I wish the same to you—plenty of desserts, whether you prefer pies or cakes, puddings or ice cream.