The Thanksgiving Book

I am a child waiting for my favorite meal of the year. My mother has been up since dawn preparing; the onions are sautéed in butter and added to the savory dressing filled with bread, eggs, sage and raisins. The sweet potatoes are whipped to perfection, the cranberries heated and popped to just the right consistency and the brown-glazed turkey holding court as king of the countertop. My entire hungry family presses into a ring around the kitchen island, ogling the final product that has taken all day to complete. Our mouths water from the tantalizing smells of roasting buttery meat, the tartness of the berries and the aroma of yeast rolls; our stomachs growl, hungering to taste the smells that have surrounded us for hours.

“Are you ready for me now?” My father grabs the electric knife with obvious pleasure, slicing the moist turkey into servings and placing them on a large platter. Not just any platter, mind you, but a large ceramic dish embellished with a brightly-colored turkey, reserved for this one day of use.

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.”

After the prayer of thankfulness, we relish in the bounty at our table. The meal ends with traditional homemade pumpkin pie and freshly whipped cream, served with strong hot coffee. Afterward, we are all too full to move but are pressed into service anyway. Mom hand washes all the good plates and silver, handing them to us piping hot to dry with clean white cotton dishtowels. We stack them on the now-cleared dining room table until they are put away the next day. The shadows are long on the browning grass and the sun is setting behind the tall pines, causing a twinge of sadness that the day is almost over. Worn out, we fall to the sofas for relief. We eat the leftovers for days on regular plates that can be put in the dishwasher or on paper plates, easily thrown away. I look forward to turkey sandwiches made with mayonnaise and cranberry sauce.

It's my favorite holiday. 

And now so many years later as an adult, I call Thanksgiving the “forgotten holiday.” In the fall, Halloween is front and center with rows upon rows of candy and garish costumes filling the stores in September, and the Christmas decorations are soon to follow. Thanksgiving is stuck in the middle, hardly worth a mention. It seems only to segue into a larger-than-life Christmas season. Families gather for the traditional Thanksgiving meal, sometimes homemade, but more often the turkey and dressing with all the trimmings is purchased at the grocery store or other catering service. Many times the Christmas tree is erected that night. And these days the alarm clock doesn’t need to be set for shopping on Black Friday because the Christmas early-bird shopping frenzy begins on Thanksgiving Day!

With so much competition from other holiday intruders, it’s a challenge to recreate the charm and family togetherness of earlier Thanksgivings. In an effort to try to keep this holiday alive, I kept many of my family’s traditions but have added one of my own.

A Thanksgiving journal sits in a prominent place on the kitchen island, inviting each of us to add one thing we are thankful for that year. This small book holds the history of a family—intertwined lives that are at the same time beautiful and messy, a written record of blessings and gratefulness that evoke many emotions as I read through the entries since 1991. 

We are a blended family—two families joined together as one—an almost impossible task. The six children who come to our table now are adults, four sons and two daughters; through the years two sons-in-law and three daughters-in-law have been added. There are also nine little ones who have joined the group, from babes in arms to a preteen granddaughter sitting around the table. The journey has not been easy. There have been estrangements, struggles, serious illnesses and clashing of personalities. But there has also been acceptance, friendship, shared love and appreciation.

Most years a few children are missing as they have gone to the other parent’s house for the holiday. Sadly, included in the legacy of family are notes of thankfulness from individuals who are no longer a part because of divorce. And death has stolen a few from us, their presence now only a cherished memory.

I revisit a comment from Pops, the oldest great-grandparent. His words speak of a life well lived, his only written autobiography. “I am thankful for the good life and health that the good Lord has provided for me and for my family, and for good friends—Neel.”  He died at the age of 90, experiencing vibrant health until Alzheimer’s slow yet steady grip snuffed out his life. Interesting that he used the word good three times in his entry; his last name was Allgood (and he would say it was “All good”).

Other great-grandparents mention health issues too; “First, I’m thankful that Nannie is a ‘little” better after two hospital visits and three weeks of sickness. Grandpa.” Little did he know that this was the first of many hospital visits to come. As for Nannie (my mother), she was grateful that I have taken over the cooking duties for Thanksgiving.

There are entries from teenagers who left home to go to college and learned more than what was taught in class. From our youngest son— “I am thankful for where I have come from and what I have come from, because I have seen and been with people who have no parents and no money. I have two wonderful families and I am very thankful!”

Our daughter writes, “I’m thankful for parents who make the family work—we are all blessed to be growing up with you as adults, teaching us. I realize how blessed I am, and have been since I moved to school and witnessed those who grew up with ugly family backgrounds, causing so many messed-up kids.”

One year my niece Anna was too shy to enter anything in writing so she drew a big roasted turkey and signed her name. This same shy ten year old got married a few years ago and is now an accomplished young woman with a career that takes her around the world. An outline of a child’s hand is drawn on another page; inside the hand my daughter-in-law wrote, “Caroline is thankful for Mommy and Daddy.” Today Caroline is fully capable of writing her own entries with or without illustrations. Her younger sister, Brooke, dictated these words: “I’m thankful for Laura Kate; Gibson—I don’t like Gibson, he pushes me down. Campbell, she’s my friend.” And last year a spoken entry was added by our Ethiopian-born grandson, Benjamin, who was three at the time, “I’m thankful for Aubie (Auburn University’s mascot) and Sadie (their new puppy).”

A more somber note from my nephew David speaks of the tumult of the year 2001. “I’m thankful for at least a bit of sanity in this world. After September 11th, I was afraid that our world would be split in two, and I’m grateful we’ve held it together since then.”

But the entries that pull at my heartstrings the most are two handwritten notes that I have inserted into the book. 

“Mom, wake me up if you want me to help you cook,” written by my son Forrest who was home from college on holiday. Added was a P.S. from his older brother, Jonathan. It reads, “Same for me!  J.W.” I don’t recall waking them to take them up on their offer, but their thoughtfulness meant more to me than they would ever know.        

The other treasured note is from my stepdaughter, Lindsey. Through the years our relationship had weathered many storms, so her words of appreciation were especially encouraging. “Marjeanie, Thanksgiving was really special. Thank you—for taking the time, and for all your efforts.” 

One year, a message was added in Spanish from my new son-in-law, Andrés; “Gracious a Dios primero por lavida.  Estoy muy agradecido en este año por todo lo qa Jesus esta asiendo en mi vida, y por la grande bendicion qa Shannon es para mi vida.’  Translated, this means: “First, thanks to God for my life. This year I am very grateful for all he is doing in my life, and for the huge blessing that Shannon is to me.”

Our family story is written in each person’s unique handwriting, and we often go back and reread the entries from year to year. In this book we glimpse God’s faithfulness to us, growth in character, progression in careers and development of little ones into real people.  

Most of all, we remember. And in that way, we keep Thanksgiving from being the forgotten holiday.