I love Thanksgiving. It is my absolute favorite holiday. To me, it exemplifies what Christmas should be. It is a time for gathering together, enjoying each others companies, and breaking bread. Christmas is crass and commercial, and although there is an attempt to commercialize Thanksgiving with Black Friday shopping and sales, at its core it is still not about presents beneath the tree, but the present of each others presence.
Growing up, Thanksgiving’s were generally held at my Grandparent’s farmhouse. Cousins, aunts, and uncles who we would see only once a year would descend on the white American Foursquare house with its orchards and rickety barns. It was a large house, but never big enough to contain us all. We had the oak drop leaf table that had been in my family for generations. We had pictures of my grandfather when he was just a few years old laid out on the table. With the leaves in, it could sit a dozen comfortably. The food was laid out on the kitchen peninsula and the countertops. Pies, deserts, and my Aunt Sally’s frozen fruit salad were laid out on the desktop. We had additional tables in the living room.
Our uncles and older cousins would take to the cold garage- doing uncle stuff. Talking about trucks, tractors, chaw, and the weather. You could smoke out there, and depending on who was present, swear out there- something I took advantage of as a way to test the boundaries at a young age. As the years went on, people were added to the tables. New girlfriends and boyfriends would show up. Many would show up a year or two later as a husband or wife of a cousin, aunt, or uncle. A few years later, often a new cousin would show up. Just a few pounds, and a few months old- we would mark their growth with the Thanksgivings every year.
As we got older, we took to the woods and fields with airguns in tow, and eventually with shotguns. We walked the fence rows. ridgelines, and ravines of that property hunting for pheasant or quail. We were rarely successful, I remember once my cousin Marc getting a pheasant. I was, and remain to this day a terrible shot at anything living. Marc was always a more adept hunter than I was, and to this day hunts the old property.
I moved to Maine some years ago (I say some because honestly, I am too lazy to figure out exactly how many- not enough to lose track of- but just the same too many to count on one hand). My first year, I flew back home, but since then all of my Thanksgivings have been in this state. My neighborhood is filled with refugees from the midwest. We gather every year, not as a family by blood, but a family nonetheless. The festivity splits time between two houses with everyone bringing a dish or two. We gather inside by the wood stoves and catch up. Despite living down the road from one another our interactions can be limited to a wave throughout the year. There is never enough time to sit and visit, but once a year, we put everything else aside and make time. I love them like I love my family, and am blessed to have this new tradition.
I have moved a thousand miles away from where my Thanksgivings began- and left behind what was my family at this holiday. Now, I am the Uncle or cousin coming in once a year- although never at Thanksgiving. The farm was sold, the absence of my grandparents, the aunts and uncles I will never see again weighs heavily on me, casting a shadow of melancholy on the holiday. It will never be the same, but I am thankful just the same for the holidays I had and I have.