family life, spiritual life

The ever-changing table

“There is always, always something to be thankful for.” poster wisdom

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The era that set all that Thanksgiving should be in my mind was actually rather brief. It began the year my immediate family returned to our Chicago-area home base and ended about 10 years later, when the cousins began to move away. And away and away.

Now, if we take into account both my family and my husband’s, we are literally scattered coast to coast. Only once in recent years have we re-created that beloved childhood gathering of 30 or so. That was the year my grandmother died on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. As she was nearly 102 and had lived a rather good life, it was more an occasion to celebrate than to mourn. We were all together. And, at Thanksgiving of all times. Gramma’s absolute favorite.

We spilled back into the house after the funeral, an ornery young cousin I had never seen tormenting my tiny daughters by throwing a lovey into a loft and the rest of us talking at 90 mph while holding Chinet plates on our laps and eating something, somewhere.

Who will be around our table this year? I’m still not sure! I’m ready for anything from six to 17. Seriously. πŸ™‚

It was almost as if gramma was there, bustling around the kitchen. At least for me. I grew up with her as part of my household, more of a daughter born out of due time than the tail end of the grandchildren. She was the family cook every day, but especially at Thanksgiving. Other than a side dish here or there prepared by my mother or one aunt, gramma single-handedly cranked out massive holiday meals for six decades.

Then I began. Not with turkeys. Oh, no. Someone else has always done that. My husband, with his love of thermometers and the scientific method, is in charge these days. He hits golden perfection every year. I cook side dishes, decorate and, perhaps most importantly to me, make sure the seats at our table are as full as possible.

Separated from family by death and distance and the occasional divorce, there’s something in me that seeks out anyone who is also missing that childhood table, even if it was never anything more than a painting or a wish. I haven’t always succeeded. My husband and I have spent a couple Thanksgivings on our own. But, more often, our ever-changing table is surrounded by a noisy mix of international students and friends, neighbors, co-workers from far-flung states and anyone else who, like us, wants a bit of hullabaloo for the holiday.

We feast. We talk. We are together. Maybe for a year. Maybe for a season. Someday, we pray, forever.

22 thoughts on “The ever-changing table”

  1. Geography and second families and deaths have changed Thanksgiving for me as well. Part of the landscape by the time you’re 78. I’m always invited to the homes of friends, which is lovely, but thank you for bringing back the days when family was front and center and we couldn’t wait to be together! The smells and laughter and bustling in the kitchen…the stories and the walk after dinner…so much to be grateful for. You captured it all so well!

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    1. Thank you!!! Your comment about “bustling in the kitchen” made me think of the hour or so after dinner, when all the older ladies of the family (and childhood me, for some reason) cleaned up in more than one way. Those pies were seriously good back in the gluten- and dairy-eating days! Have a blessed holiday wherever you are!! πŸ™‚

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  2. Beautiful post Nora and happy memories of your gracious grandmother.
    How lovely to have had a live in grandmother & a cook at that.
    I live in northern England with parents coming over here 195; (both deceased r.i.p) I only ever met my maternal grandfather on family annual holidays in Co. Donegal . I never knew my late father’s parents r.i.p..

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    1. Thanks, Margaret! It was lovely. We miss them all, don’t we? On a lighter note: Ireland and England, huh? I have a wee bit of Irish and Welsh in me, as well, but have always lived in the U.S. Oddly, it seems everyone in America considers themselves to be Irish! And, Italian, for that matter. I think it has to do with a tradition of joy. πŸ™‚

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      1. My late father was one of 10 children, all but two emigrated to America. My Dad lived there (Watertown Mass.) for a few years. The two youngest who never ventured out of Ireland never met their two eldest brothers. Dad used to often come out with Italian sentences. He quite liked America, returning to Ireland in the Great Depression. Was 16 years older than mum.

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    1. πŸ™‚ The holidays really can be hard. I suspect every table includes the memories of everyone we’ve loved. You were blessed and you are blessed. I hope God brings some zip along in an unexpected way to lighten the day!!

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  3. Thanksgiving is not celebrated in my country…but I think there still family/memory dinners for quite different reasons. I’m no longer part of a family, our lives have changed, either by growing apart or being elsewhere in the world…

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    1. Family certainly is complicated, no matter where one lives! I suspect we just have to do the best we can with those who are around us. Love can accomplish quite a lot. Have a wonderful rest of the week. πŸ™‚

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    1. It’s a tough one. But, I hope God sends touches of humor throughout the holiday season for you guys — that you’ll have all sorts of quirky reasons to laugh and laugh. Blessings, Dianna! πŸ™‚

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  4. I can imagine you had some interesting experiences! It’s fun to mix things up. Plus, a stranger or two at the table puts family on their best behavior — never a bad thing at the holidays. πŸ™‚

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  5. Our Thanksgiving table is slowly changing starting this year with the death of my Papa a few months ago. We have Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house and she’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. So we have no idea what future Thanksgivings will hold for our family.

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    1. It really is a process. What has worked for us is adding new people and new traditions. We experiment with side dishes, table decor. This year, we were pleased to find out there are late-night Thanksgiving ice skating hours of all things. Everyone that can skate will be on the ice. I will be sipping hot chocolate and nodding while people whiz by. πŸ™‚ Blessings on your holiday in spite of the changes!!

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