I shared this story a few years back and I feel it worthy of retelling.
As I was growing up the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas were all about the traditions. I enjoyed the decorations, the music, the food (especially the food). Year after year we followed the same holiday routines and the timing of everything was important. We ate the same foods at the same time in the same place. One particular Thanksgiving all that changed. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood how important this “break” in tradition would become for me in my life.
It was Thanksgiving in 1985 and we were living in Sunset Park Brooklyn. I was 10 and my sister was 7 and our family had fallen on some hard times. My mom worked part time and a few different jobs and took care of me and my sister who was physically disabled and confined to a wheelchair. My dad worked as a maintenance man at an apartment complex in Bay Ridge. Though we lived paycheck to paycheck, there was always food on the table. Thanksgiving and Christmas were special times when my parents splurged on making sure that there was an abundance of food for us to celebrate. This one Thanksgiving though was a particularly rough time for our family. My dad had recently lost his job and we were struggling to make ends meet. With barely enough money for bills and food, it was going to be difficult for my parents to afford much of a holiday dinner. With two children and Christmas right around the corner, there was a lot of tension and worrying. Traveling was not an option, as we were without a vehicle.
My grandmother graciously offered to bring all of the food from her home in Long Island to ours in Brooklyn. On their way to Brooklyn, early Thanksgiving morning, my Grandparents’ car broke down on the Long Island Expressway. This was before cell phones, so it was several hours before we discovered they were unable to make it to Brooklyn. Distraught, my parents were at a loss as the situation seemed hopeless. A close neighbor invited us to dinner at their home and though my parents and sister decided to tough it out at home, I was not going to miss the opportunity for a meal…some things never change. To my surprise, our neighbors Thanksgiving dinner was less festive than what I had traditionally served in my home. I left after dessert quite disappointed. Instant mashed potatoes, jar gravy and canned carrots were not going to cut it for this 10 year old food critic.
When I returned home, I was pleased to learn that we were going to travel the next day on the LIRR to my grandparents. Though a day late… Thanksgiving dinner was back on and I was excited. Back then…and for many years after, the holidays were so much more about all the pomp and circumstance and anything less was not acceptable.
As the years have gone on, one by one, each holiday brought with it its own unique set of circumstances. My priorities have shifted drastically. I am still fussy about meal planning, but I realize now that it is far less about what is on the table and more about those gathered around it. Sometimes the people gathered around the table change. Chairs where loved ones who have passed sit empty and we miss their presence. Sometimes those chairs are filled with new friends or family…or friends that have become family. The true blessings of Thanksgiving are the people we love and the time we share together. The people are what truly matters and the quality of the time spent together is far more important than anything else.
As we gather with our families, friends and loved ones to celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, let us take the time to rejoice and give thanks to God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon us. Let us pray for those who do not have families or loved ones near to share time with this season. Pray that they too may know God’s love. I am grateful for my family and friends, including my school family. I wish all of you and your families all of God’s blessings. As I gather with my loved ones, I will pray for all of you, that this day be bountiful and filled with the love of family and friends.