Every Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think of my childhood. As far back as I can remember, my mother, sister, and I spent Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas at my grandmother’s house, but the Thanksgiving celebrations were the most spirited.
My mother and her two sisters (their brother had died before I could meet him) would help Grandma in the kitchen while more than a dozen of us grandchildren caught up with each other and cut up–laughing, playing, and comparing notes from the last time we were all together.
We grouped ourselves by age range as there was a span of 15, maybe 18 years between the youngest and the oldest of us. I remember my days sitting at the “kids” table. My group would complain about the indignity but in reality we were glad we didn’t have to sit with the grownups. We were in our own world talking, or yelling, about serious and silly matters, our etiquette careless, slovenly, and uncriticized.
I remember the food: collard greens, cornbread, turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, biscuits, apple cider, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato pie. There was nothing else beyond this and our family that day.
There was one year when my age mates were about 9, 10, 11 years old that we met a “new” cousin for the first time. He was our age, born from a complicated union slightly outside of our circle, blood kin to some of us but not all of us. But we decided to consider him our cousin anyway, a dubious honor. He was nice and did his best to fit in even though he hardly knew us and didn’t speak our insider’s language. We saw him maybe one other time after that and I haven’t seen him since.
Soon, the older cousins started having children and the gatherings got even bigger and louder. The age groups continued to set themselves apart from each other. Although we were no longer the youngest, my group never graduated to the grown up table. Too cool for school, we teenagers always chose to eat somewhere off on our own.
The years went by and one Thanksgiving I brought my soon-to-be husband to the fray for dinner and scrutiny. But ultimately, as was our way, he was welcomed, as family to one of us was family to us all.
Not long after, my grandmother became too frail to host these holiday dinners. She became an invalid and the family rallied around caring for her in her home. When she died, the glue that held us together lost its strength. The entire family is rarely in the same place together any more. We celebrate holidays, or not, within our immediate families. Sometimes we all get together at weddings, and increasingly over the years, at funerals.
My daughter has moved out of state, so I’ll cook Thanksgiving dinner with my son and my mom. As I fuss over the turkey, I will think of my grandmother.
Childhood memories are powerful things, always the last to go.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2012