Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Impressions

This has been a banner Thanksgiving. For the first time in more than a decade almost all of the family gathered together in one house, although not one table, to feast and share in the holiday. Heather's friend Amber joined us, but Matt had to work all day, resulting in a group of 11.

Driving down to Texas, even if it is just the panhandle, awakens all kinds of imagery from my childhood. I think it's the trees -- the oaks and the pecan trees, the flatness of the land stretching out again the sky except where a tree intersects it. Much of Dumas reminds me of Mexia, which was Thanksgiving central for many years. Before I was born, the Saltsmans gathered around my grandmother's table dressed in their finest, using the china that was never used any other time in the year (except Christmas dinner). Below are my grandparents Saltsman with my Aunt Laverne to the right of my granddaddy in the dining room, whose central feature in my memory is the dark hard wood floors and the big table that I played underneath.

Many years after, Me-Maw was still making Thanksgiving dinner in that same kitchen, starting in the wee hours of the morning, always with a smile.

When you're a kid, the length of the day seems endless, the forever waiting while the adults cook and cook and cook, the boredom with the football on the TV where all the men looked at you like you should just go play outside (which, if it wasn't too cold, you were always happy to do.)

Sometimes, you'd get lucky and get company out in the crunchy leaves for a little while.

But mostly, as an only child in a family where there just weren't any cousins your age, where you were always the youngest and typically asked to either find something to do on your own or stay quiet, the day lagged on interminably.

At least until after dark. Because the highlight of the day as a kid, at least for me, was that Thanksgiving also always meant board games at night: Clue and Life and Yahtzee. As you can tell above, they got me started on the dice early ;). Aunt Dot and cousin Christy kept me quiet with goldfish here, circa 1971.

Thanksgiving also meant colorful "hand" turkeys posted on the fridge and the obligatory Pilgrims and Indians play at school.

Other impressions that stick with me . . . the garage of my childhood home that had been converted into a large kitchen, with the big sun-filled window and 70s floral wallpaper and green carpet. I found just one picture in the files of the yellow countertops, avocado dishwasher, and goldenrod refrigerator. There was plenty of Thanksgiving prep in there on the years everyone came to our house.

And there are the memories of the Thanksgivings spent at Aunt Dot's home in Brenham, as the family dinners grew smaller when the older cousins went elsewhere to other homes. Of course, they grew larger again as the grandchildren came along. I wish I could find the pictures of the year Aunt Dot made us all wear Indian headdresses or pilgrim hats to the dinner table to the delight of her grandsons.

But now, at my 40th Thanksgiving, looking back across the years, I cherish those long, boring days of solitary play, listening in to those adult conversations, the moans over Lions football, and the sounds of crunchy leaves outside. It makes me thankful for a life where a day of leisure is combined with setting off the fire alarm when you broil the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole a minute too long, where memories of days past creep into the corners of your mind and make you smile for the faces that aren't around the table any more.

Of course, it makes me doubly thankful for those faces who still sit at my table, for the years that I've been blessed to have them with me . . .

For the different tables that bind us together . . .for the years that seem to race by . . . for the realization that my oldest will be coming "back home" for Thanksgiving next year. . .

. . . I am deeply thankful.


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