I have many memories of Thanksgiving, spreading out over my 55 years of life. All of them include too much food, so many intoxicating smells, lots of relatives, and an enduring sense of family love.
Some memories are annual; the smell of the turkey with its crisp golden skin, the taste of dates and figs after dinner, the special pleasure of a bowl of my Mom’s hamburg stuffing with a big dollop of cranberry sauce on top, hours after the guests have gone home.
Some memories are tied to specific periods of my life. The high school football games of my adolescence, filled with red and black pompoms, victory dances (even when we lost) and the school spirit song. High school football games of my middle age, when my sons were either in the band or on the field, complete with local color, anxious moments and the sweet sound of the National Anthem in gorgeous four part harmony.
I remember Thanksgivings as a child, with ravioli on the table, chestnuts roasting, and conversations veering from English to Italian and back again. I remember the Thanksgivings of my teen years, with the pancake breakfast in the morning, helping in the kitchen at noon, and a dance at the High School to end the evening.
I can clearly remember the early Thanksgivings when my children were babies. I recall sitting in fear at the dinner table with my toddler in front of an expensive china plate. Rushing through dinner to nurse a cranky baby and defending my desire to hold him as he slept, rather than leaving him in his portacrib in another room. I recall the years when I spent the day before the holiday at the pediatrician’s office, filling prescriptions to deal with the ear infections and bronchitis.
I remember the years with little children; dressing up in our best, and heading off to Grandma’s. I remember packing up my squash and my pies, and getting on the road with my children in the back of the car.
I remember Grampa cracking walnuts in his strong hands. And Nana telling stories at the table, before a game of Ganju. I remember little turkey’s made by my own hands, my siblings hands, my children’s loving hands. I remember the feeling of peace and contentment that came from my very full belly, my over filled dessert plate, my packed dining room table.
And I remember, so well, the years when I became the hostess. The kids and I would clean the house, brine the bird, make some pies. They’d help their Dad to clean up the yard, straighten the deck, bring up the serving dishes. We would have our special time together before the house filled up with friends and relatives. We would have each other to look at and laugh with throughout the holiday.
I remember the inexplicable joy of having my oldest child home from college that first year. She seemed so exotic, so grown up, so familiar, so dear to me. I can bring myself to tears just remembering how she stood in the doorway with her hair swept over her shoulder, her smile as wide and as bright at the sea.
I remember it all. I remember too much.
This year is a new year. No children live here. No one is asking for that special pie. I will not go to a football game or take a child to the doctor. The china is safe from tiny, active hands.
So many people from my past are gone.
My Grampa is gone, and his walnut cracking magic has gone with him.
My Nana is gone, so the card game after dinner has gone, too.
My Dad is gone, so the political debates over brandy are finished, too.
My babies are gone, so the games and the laughs and the special mincemeat pies are gone now too.
I have so many memories of Thanksgivings past.