Prancing and cavorting like a new colt in an open pasture, the fourth Thursday in November is like no other. The holiday trots out laughter, music, sparkling cider, mouth-watering aromas, memories of Mom’s good china and silver service, and “Don’t you dare come to the dinner table dressed like that!”
Thanksgiving in my hometown of San Diego was a day for Dad’s fabulous roast turkey, succulent and perfect, the fancy white linen tablecloth, and Mom’s lime-pineapple Jell-o mold with walnuts. Mom worked so hard on that Jell-o concoction, no one had the heart to tell her we only ate it to be polite. I don’t think any of us kids actually liked it. (It was the walnuts.)
The oldest daughter of four children, it was my job to set the oak table in the dining room – the one reserved for special occasions – and to dig out the His and Her pilgrim candles from the bottom drawer of the china hutch. Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim presided unlit as our wax Thanksgiving centerpieces for years. (I don’t know what became of them, but suspect they now preside over a big Thanksgiving table in the sky.)
Following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and endless quarters of football, the Naas family gathered in the dining room to recount our blessings. We held hands around a table groaning with goodness and bowed our heads as Dad said something like: “Lord, we thank you for your bountiful blessings and the many gifts you’ve bestowed upon this house. Thank you for your love, and for each other. Amen.”
Dad’s blue eyes crinkled as he lifted his head, grabbed the carving knife and grinned. “Send your plates down everybody! Mom, you’ve outdone yourself again!”
The six of us didn’t even dent the Thanksgiving spread Peggy Naas laid out every year, a feast that could feed Rome’s legions. Dad was in charge of the turkey and stuffing, but Mom took care of the rest.
“Who wants to go out for a jog?” she’d say after our mid-day meal. Mom ran marathons competitively and usually finished in the top three for her age group. My kid sister Laura and I would join her, lumbering around the block in our shirt sleeves. You can do that in November in San Diego, the “land of endless summer.” We laced into our running shoes while Dad and brothers Jeff and Kurt were glued to a TV screen watching a bunch of college athletes toss a pigskin around a cow pasture.
“How ‘bout dessert?” Jeff inquired upon our return. Six feet tall and 135 pounds soaking wet, Jeff could afford to inquire.
“Pumpkin or mincemeat?” Mom replied, russet hair tumbling around her dark eyes as she strode into the kitchen, a culinary monarch surveying her regal realm. Laura and I grabbed dessert plates and unearthed pies from their refrigerated repose for Mom to slice and serve.
We polished off dessert more than once. Jeff and bean-pole thin kid brother Kurt returned for more as we gathered into the living room for our annual review of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In later years, Walton Thanksgiving specials became a family staple.
It’s hard to believe that so many Thanksgivings have come and gone since these holiday classics originally aired. I look back and wonder, “Where did the time go?” I don’t remember the years moving so fast in my younger days. They seem to pile up after five decades, rushing by with avalanche-like alacrity. Just like the holidays.
At last count, the Walton Thanksgiving movies totaled three. Interesting, isn’t it, that not Christmas, Easter, or even Mother’s Day but Thanksgiving inspired three separate movie specials? In one Walton movie Cora Beth Godsey observes, “On Thanksgiving, of all holidays, one should be at home.”
I didn’t agree with the starchy shopkeeper’s wife on much, but without family or friends, Thanksgiving is … well, it’s like Abbott without Costello. Lucy without Ricky. Turkey without… Well. You get the idea.
As autumn glides into winter this year, November seems both full and empty as I find myself at an age where memories stir like Mom’s brown gravy on the Kenmore back burner. Thanksgiving evokes faces and voices from the mists of memory like no other day.
This year’s fourth Thursday will be filled with whispers of grace: kids, counted blessings, feasting, football, friends. Hands clasped around a table groaning with goodness. Hearty “Amens!” Maybe a Waltons re-run or two. But my grandparents, favorite uncles and aunts are all passed on, as are Mom and Dad. My siblings are flung to the four compass corners of the map. I miss them all and feel their absences most acutely between November and December. While we aren’t able to gather around a turkey-and-trimmings table as often we’d like, we hold each other close in our hearts.
And so, more than a thousand miles removed from my southern California roots, Thanksgiving reminiscences remain warm. The holiday is sweeter than Mom’s lime-pineapple Jell-o without the walnuts because I, like Cora Beth Godsey, have learned that wherever my loved ones are on the fourth Thursday in November, I’m Home.
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Photo credit: public domain