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Giving thanks. Two simple words that aren’t always so easy to remember. Generally, we surround Turkey Day with food and family, but there is a deeper meaning… one that should take place as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning: being thankful. Not because of any one thing, but just because. You are here. You are breathing. That, in itself, is enough.
Every year since I was a kid, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. I would wake early, running a few miles with my father as we prepared our stomachs for the onslaught ahead. Then, we’d all shrug ourselves into thick sweaters and jeans and pile into the car for the short ride to my grandmother’s house. Outside, we would toss football. I would immediately dodge inside to say hello to my grandmother, giving her a big hug and setting my strategy for the operation “food steal” before actual Thanksgiving lunch. I was always the first in line, piling my plate so high, I had to take trepidatious steps to the kids’ table. After four plates of food, my aunt and I would take a long, luxurious walk through the cemetery, talking and reminiscing and breathing in the cool, untouched air.
Back at the house, it was a masterpiece of desserts. Chocolate fudge pie, pecan pie, homemade sugar cookies that were paper thin and would break apart in your mouth, that dusting of fresh sugar clinging to your lips and gums; and boiled custard, my personal favorite. I would stand by the giant bowl and watch as my grandmother dipped her ladle in and brought me out a thick, fresh cup.
Then, on to napping and a general haze for the rest of the day.
This tradition lasted well into my adult years, though many more grandkids had come along, and my grandmother’s cooking had gone downhill a bit. There wasn’t as much laughter. You could hear the clanging of forks, and pretty soon, my aunt was too tired to take the walks in the cemetery. Then, my grandmother died. They sold the house. My grandfather moved into assisted living.
Suddenly, my favorite ritual bore not even an imprint of what it used to be – no thick turkey, no sweet potato casserole, no gathering of the family and no more big hugs. Never again would I inhale her soft, supple skin.
Last year was my first year away from my family. Why? Because I was creating a new tradition with my husband. We made our own Thanksgiving feast in Chicago and ate by candlelight, our puppy begging at our ankles. This year, as vegans, we will prepare a new type of feast for his family, who will join us on Thursday in our home – the home we will soon be giving up, as life grows in my belly and we prepare to take our next steps as parents.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that traditions change. People grow and shift and die and are born and get moody and just don’t show up. But, if you make the day about what you have instead of what you don’t, you just may find some magic there.
There’s no ideal holiday situation, except the one you’re in. Savor the moment. Think of all that you’re grateful for, of all that you have and all that you have yet to achieve.
Eat some food. Talk. Laugh. And reminisce about those old traditions you miss so much. I know I will. I will be telling a story for my grandmother. Because she deserves it.
And I am thankful.