family life, spiritual life

The ever-changing table

“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.” Erma Bombeck, American humorist

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 awCIMG5835_edited-1.JPGay 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.

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.