A dear friend asked me on Facebook today, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” That got me thinking of how much creatures of habit and tradition my families are, both on my wife’s side and on my side. We rotate between Paula's family and my family for Thanksgiving, based on health and who can make it this year. The more family that can make it, the more the chances are it will be that family’s “turn.” This year we are at my sister’s house in Thayer, Missouri. We are driving to Thayer that morning to have Thanksgiving lunch with my sister and brother-in-law, my dad, two nieces (one has four young girls) and my brother-in-law's 98-year-old father, Scotty. It will be noisy and fun. There are always multiple dogs weaving between everyone’s feet, looking for their Thanksgiving treats, and claiming their territory under the table.
We have the traditional foods: turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, spiral cut ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, brown beans, cranberries, broccoli and cheese casserole, and pickled vegetables (green tomatoes, cucumbers, onions) from dad’s garden to clear your palate before the next bite of potatoes.
To me, the cranberries are an important part of the tradition. The red stains on the plate let you know who in the family really understands a Blankenship Thanksgiving. The tartness and the pop of the berries in my mouth shouts “Happy Thanksgiving” to my tongue, and gives me one more thing to be thankful for.
Then there are the rolls. Before she died, my mother always made the rolls. Luckily, a good family friend, an amazing baker, has taken up the duty of the rolls for the family, and we are so grateful. They are big yeast rolls, three inches tall, browned on top with butter, and smelling so good you can't talk for fear of drooling on your shirt. You can always tell when the meal is about to be served: the rolls are in the oven, the smell of the bread overtakes the turkey, and it gets quieter, as we salivate and wait. When I was a boy, this was when time would stand still. That last 30 minutes before the prayer would take days to pass.
Since my mom died (nine years ago), my sister puts one long stemmed red rose on the table. That simple act allows mom to sit with us and listen to the conversation. No one mentions it. The rose is just there, listening, and guiding us with quiet strength, like she always did. Her absence has changed us, allowing us to float a bit farther apart as a family. But when we are together, when we are quiet, like when we are all finally seated and Grandpa Scotty gives the Thanksgiving prayer, we are one again.
Then the carnage begins. You would think by now, after decades of doing this, we would have worked out the most productive way to pass the plates of food. But no, the gravy goes before the potatoes, the turkey is too heavy to pass so plates go this way and that, the salt and pepper is always at the wrong end of the table, and the butter goes before the rolls. Chaos! We are frantic to get just the right mix on our plates, and it does happen. It just takes too long! Finally, we fall in rhythm and the meal is consumed.
The pies, usually pumpkin, apple, and pecan, are kept in the garage until the meal is over because there is no room left in the kitchen. Then they show up with homemade whipping cream and groans of overindulgence as we say, "just a sliver...of each."
Before and after the meal, we make an art of complaining about having to help, while elbowing everyone out of the way so we can. My sister is in charge, but as my nieces have become adults, they take over more of the operation, allowing moments where the older adults can talk or lobby for Christmas plans, when, in 30 days, this all takes place again!
This is about the point I start getting antsy about the Dallas Cowboy football game. From the time I was old enough to understand football, the Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving, and for that I am very thankful. This year, it is the later game, so it will be on when we load up the van and head back to Springfield. I’ll be very careful not to listen to the radio, so when I get home, it will be recorded and ready to watch, fresh, and I with no knowledge of who won or what happened. If I stop for gas, I have to hum with my fingers in my ears as I go into the gas station, for fear of hearing a score.
My family, friends, my little company, my country, traditions, the peace of belonging, all these things I am thankful for every year. I’m asking you now, what do you do for Thanksgiving? I hope your traditions bring a taste to your tongue, a tear to your eye, and hope to your heart, like mine.
Happy Thanksgiving from Gary, Paula, & Cat
Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street
Springfield, MO 65806