Thankful for Thanksgiving Memories

I spent Thanksgiving weekend feeling thankful for many things. Initially, I was thankful that all of Matt’s family was able to get together for my niece’s first birthday. It’s rare for all of us to be in the same city, let alone the same house together. This was our first chance to meet our niece and it was a really nice day for everyone. The drive took us about 2.5 hours outside of Ottawa through some beautiful scenery. Of course, we weren’t able to get pictures as we drove, but the fall colours were really incredible. Canada is such an extremely beautiful country and I’m thankful that I get to live here and experience it.

After the trip on Saturday, we were all pretty wiped out. Sunday, I woke up feeling pretty cruddy and spent half the day in my pajamas. I was thankful to Matt for taking Brandon out so I could sleep in. I was thankful to Brandon for being such a great kid and being agreeable to seeing less of Mommy so I could get some extra rest. Eventually, I forced myself to get up and get busy. I decided that I wanted to have a Thanksgiving dinner, even if Matt’s parents weren’t going to join us this year. So, armed with nothing more than an idea of what I wanted to do, I went to the store – always a dangerous prospect. I picked up a turkey breast, some potatoes, a couple boxes of stuffing, and the ingredients I needed to make pumpkin pies. I was going to do a “low-key, shortcut Thanksgiving”. Mostly, I just wanted to let Brandon get his first taste of turkey and all the trimmings. I was really having a hard time letting go of our personal “tradition” of having Matt’s parents over for Thanksgiving (sometimes his brother comes, too). This year, we mutually opted out since we were all getting together the day before anyway.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday after Christmas. I love Christmas because I get to go look for that perfect gift for everyone. But it’s lost a little of its appeal over the years. Perhaps I’ll do a Christmas post later, but enough about it now – this is the Thanksgiving post! I love Thanksgiving because it’s all about family. Spending time together, eating, playing games, enjoying just being together and the reminder to be thankful for the many blessings we’re given.

I don’t remember any Thanksgivings prior to about the time I was eight or nine years old, so I couldn’t tell you what we did in my younger years. At some point, though, we started going to my Great Uncle Lloyd’s house on the river in Dunellon, Florida. The first year we went, I think my brothers and I felt like it was way more work than it was worth. We didn’t know the family all that well and my mom had insisted on making more pies than we thought possible for any size group to eat. (Okay, so she probably only made about seven or eight, but when you’re a kid, that’s an awful lot of pie.) We always made the pies the day before Thanksgiving (that’d be Wednesday, after all we’re talking U.S. Thanksgiving here). Since we often all got out of school or off work early, we’d go through making the pie crusts about two at a time until we had all we needed.

The first few years we made the pies, we all seemed to help out, but my older brother, Jim, eventually moved out and over time it turned into something my mom and I did together with some help from my little brother, Paul. We’d spend half the day and most of the night in the kitchen mixing the pies, baking them and watching holiday movies on television whenever we had a bit of lag time. We made pumpkin pies, apple, cherry (my personal request each year), mincemeat and pecan. Then we would all get up way too early on Thanksgiving morning, pack up the pies and pile in the car to join the Chapman family caravan.

We always stopped at this diner in Perry, Florida – every year – to get breakfast. It was a good place to stop, because we were all starving by the time we got there. It was a bad place to stop because there was a paper mill and the whole town reeked. But we never went anywhere else. In truth, the diner we went to was probably not even a 2 star rated establishment. It was mostly clean, the food was good and the people were always friendly, even though they were working on Thanksgiving. From Perry, we’d continue on to my uncle’s house – the whole trip minus the breakfast stop took about 3 hours. So, we usually arrived about an hour or two before the main event – lunch!

The kitchen was always buzzing with the activity of my aunts and female cousins as they finished the meal preparations and set out the food. My uncles and male cousins congregated in various parts of the house to visit and catch up on what had happened over the year. My brothers and I – all of us being a bit younger than our cousins – tended to go off on our own and play. Uncle Lloyd and my dad taught us how to place croquet. It may not have been the “in” game to play, but we had fun anyway. Every year, we would beg Uncle Lloyd (or his son) to get out the canoe and speedboats. We’d spend hours rowing the canoe down the river or buzzing all over the place in the speedboat.

When dinner was ready, we all came in and stood while we said Grace and then everyone would pile their plates high with food before finding a place to eat. With about 30 or more people to accommodate, you tend to stick people wherever they’ll fit. There were “kid” tables and adult tables set up in all sorts of rooms. We all found a spot and ate until we were stuffed! Then came pie time. I always remember being so proud when my aunts complimented my mother on her pie. She loved to make things for people that they would enjoy. Many years later when my grandmother, whose favorite pie was pecan, was diagnosed with diverticulitis, my mother made her a pecan pie with finely chopped pecans so that she would be able to have some. That was just the kind of person she was.

I was genuinely disappointed when we stopped going to the annual Thanksgiving at my Uncle Lloyd’s house. There were many reasons why it ended, but I’ll never forget how wonderful those years were when we got to spend Thanksgiving there. My mom continued to make Thanksgiving a special event at our own home with our immediate family. She really loved doing the big dinner and bringing the family together for a day of purposeful thanks.

I suppose that, in this, I’m a lot like my mom. I’m trying to build traditions for my own family and do things for them that they will enjoy. Thanksgiving is a special holiday. There isn’t a lot of hype around it. It’s not commercialized to the hilt. There’s not a lot of pressure to go and buy things. It’s just about family and being together – whoever you consider your family to be. I guess I’m thankful for all the Thanksgiving memories I have – and all those I’m building for the future.

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