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December is a time for celebrating family traditions. What are your favorites? Our Christmas is made special by decorating the tree with cherished ornaments and having friends over to share Christmas dinner. High on my son’s list is creating a beautiful light display for the house and yard.
Freelance writer Kristi Cook makes a keen observation in her Other Voices essay about family traditions. It’s easy to overlook the importance of how we celebrate until that special something (or someone) goes away, as it did one Thanksgiving for her family.
As meaningful as the Christmas season is, Thanksgiving has always been the king of tradition in our family. For more years than I can count, my two brothers and I have gathered at my mom’s home in Florida to celebrate this holiday. I come from a small family, owing to my parent’s divorce and my grandparents immigration to this country after World War II, leaving behind their large, extended families in England.
Perhaps that’s why Thanksgiving became so paramount to my mother, it was a way of giving thanks for this new life but also as an opportunity to have everyone home, together again. Each year, she calls mid-summer to gently remind us of how much she’s looking forward to the holiday, and not to wait too long before making our plane reservations. I think Thanksgiving represents a chance to recreate those noisy gatherings she remembers so well from her childhood, where her Nana’s house teemed with aunties, uncles, and cousins. So each year, regardless of where we are living, we shed our schedules and arrive home to gobble up Mom’s delicious mince pies and admire her beautifully laid table and to share time together, as one.
As we began having our own families, Mom would make room for more around the dining room table until finally, the kids graduated to a table of their own. But despite the growth of our families, Mom remained single. As a kid, I often prayed she would find a partner and later, that she would accept the grace of her single life.
Then, the year Evan turned 4, the most amazing thing happened. After 30 years as a divorcee — at age 70 — my mother met and married the man of her dreams. Afterward, it was exciting to see my mom in a new light; that as a wife and partner, working side-by-side with her new husband, George. Theirs was a sweet, generous, loving union, one that worked well because both desired to make the other happy.
Thanksgiving took on new meaning, as Dad added his own special traditions: baking the turkey every year in a Glad paper bag (a cooking method he assured me produced a juicier bird), and slowly simmering roux in the morning as the start to his tasty giblet gravy. Hanging out in the kitchen together, I’d pepper him with questions about his boyhood or life in the Army. Dad wasn’t showy in his contributions. He just quietly went about doing the little things that made life easier for Mom and those of us he cared for.
Our rituals continued, as we squeezed onto the living room sofa for our annual family portrait, and the cousins gathered under the magnolia tree for the kids’ photo.
Over their 14-year marriage, we celebrated as our family continued to morph, sometimes including Dad’s girls and their families, others a family friend or two. Ironically, my son only remembers his Nana and Paw-Paw as a married couple. I find that interesting, since for much of my life, mom was single. And so it is again.
This Thanksgiving, I’m returning home knowing the head of our table will be empty. You see, my stepfather died over the summer. He was 86. His departure was sudden and unexpected and terribly sad. I’m left to wonder how we’ll weather our reunion without his gentle hand to guide us. I expect it will feel strange as we confront this new reality.
However, I’m hoping we’ll take time as a family to continue one tradition we’ve always found meaningful, sharing stories around the fire pit. Dad made sure the woodpile was stocked (he even left plenty of chopped wood for this season) so we could gather after our turkey dinner to laugh and talk late into the night. This year, I expect we’ll remember George with favorite sayings and stories and acknowledgment of the sweet traditions he added to our Thanksgivings — and our lives. He may no longer be with us, but the ways in which he loved us will always be treasured. And who knows, we might even keep using the Glad bag for the turkey. I know Dad would approve.
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