Lessons From Thanksgiving Past And Present

Published in The Ferndale Record, November 24, 2010

The year was 1971 and I was a freshman at a small college in southeastern Idaho. My roommates, except for the one from Indiana, had all gone away for the holiday and a kind local church member invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner.

We gathered around his table that day with other students who hadn’t made the trip home. It was crowded, sweet, and different for a girl who’d never missed a holiday with her family before. But I had my roomie, and later, we were going to see “Gone With The Wind” in a special showing at the tiny, local movie theater. I decided it was going to be a good day.

All during dinner, our nice friend gushed about his wife’s pumpkin pie, and that we should get ready for the culinary splendor which we were about to imbibe. My mom’s Thanksgiving dessert was the best ever, and I couldn’t imagine something better than that.

One forkful put every doubt to rest. It seemed our benefactor’s wife had forgotten the sugar, or the pumpkin, or something. There was little resemblance to anything of the pumpkin variety in that pie. In fact, it was practically uneatable, and for a young woman with a healthy sweet tooth, that was really saying something.

I nibbled politely and then feigned fullness. Nothing was said, but I can’t believe I was the only one who noticed something terribly, nastily wrong. My mother’s was still the best—by a very long shot.

However, that year I was thankful for a friend to share the day with, another who didn’t let us eat alone, and especially grateful for a mom whose Thanksgiving feasts were legendary, and at whose table I’d again, one day, pull up a chair.

Thirty years later, I made a solo trip to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving. My children were with their dad, enjoying the holiday together, and I needed a getaway. It was the first time in my adult life I wasn’t with my offspring for Thanksgiving, and it stung a little. But this place at the beach soothes my aching soul, and it did the trick that year, too.

I shopped before I went to the ocean front condo, buying supplies for the few days I’d hole up and watch the waves. No turkey that year—just a loaded down shrimp salad, bread, Dr. Pepper, and a few selected goodies. Food wise, it was practically effortless, and good eats.

The weather was intense—gray winter sea roiling up to the beach bulkhead. Wind, rain, and waves pounded the sand. I talked to my kids on the Thursday holiday and stayed warm in my retreat.

That first year without my children on Thanksgiving, I was thankful for another place to be that I loved, for having the courage to try something different, and for a front row seat watching nature’s fury at sea.

This year, 2010, I’ll spend the day with my two sons, a daughter and grandson at her home. I’m supplying the homemade biscuits and our generational family favorite—my mother’s recipe for blue cheese dressing. I’ll be a guest in a home with people I love, and despite a difficult financial year, gratitude overwhelms me.

This is the year I’ve learned that one can be thankful no matter how little they think they have, and with that gratitude comes personal power, responsibility, and the quiet confidence that what you have is all you need.

Would a little more be nice sometimes? Of course. But stark, loving appreciation for what I have at the moment gets me beyond the longing, and reminds me of how much I can do without.

For me, 2010 has been full of Thanksgiving Days. I’m positive there are more to come.

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