Originally posted on November 23, 2016, “The New Old Thanksgiving” examines the familial holiday traditions of the past and how they’ve changed since my grandparents passed away and my wife joined the family.
When I think of Thanksgiving – the old, old Thanksgiving, not the new old Thanksgiving – I think about my grandparents. Really, it’s like that with all holidays. Besides Christmas Day, I spent every holiday in their basement gorging myself with anything from eggplant parmigiana to baked lobster to a sausage stuffing I’d request on Death Row.
Then, obviously came the couch with my grandfather and my father in the armchair. We’d be snoring before desert. My grandmother always cut fruit. Shelled nuts sat on the table with the cracker. And there were pies, more so on Thanksgiving than any of the other holidays.
At the time, I never realized how easy it was, having my grandparents and the holidays and nothing else to worry about. They were healthy and their table always set. Then, they weren’t. First, my grandmother went. And it was my grandfather at our house for Thanksgiving that year. And it didn’t feel right, nothing about it felt right. Because it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. And everyone knew it. As for my grandfather, he didn’t make it to the next Thanksgiving. As he said he wouldn’t. And he didn’t.
That first Thanksgiving without both of them blurs in my mind now, probably because I don’t want to remember it. Still, I recall the silence – the sad, lonely silence acknowledging that we had buried the two of them in two years and didn’t really know what to say without my grandfather complaining about the dry white meat and my grandmother looking askance at my mother, her lips pursed into a little secret smile.
So here we were, with the same spread – grandma’s stuffing, candied yams, pearl onions in cream sauce, the bird – staring back at us daring us to eat it. Not in my grandparent’s basement anymore, but in my parents’ kitchen. The two waywardly wild dogs were there. And it seemed even they knew something was amiss.
Because it was. My grandparents were missing. And, for me at least, so was the feeling they brought with them – the feeling of security, of not having to worry about who’s cooking and who’s coming because it was always the same. Until it wasn’t.
Family endures, though, never forgetting those they lost, but eventually moving on because “dwelling on what was does not change what eventually will be.” And living in the past impedes you in the present. Worse, that type of thinking makes you forget all you have to be thankful for: those who still have their health, those who have accomplished feats and deserve plaudits, those who have had milestones in their lives – whether it be a 60th birthday or a 40th wedding anniversary or an engagement.
Change, despite its inevitability, remains a shock. Routine, however, gives peace of mind around the holiday times. It saves you from your own thoughts, from yourself. And it preserves the family and the customs that make it what it is.
That next year, we started anew – Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My now-wife joined us. And so did my aunt’s boyfriend who could never sit at my grandfather’s table. And the next year, my father-in-law and brother-in-law too. The family reconstituted, without the matriarch, without the patriarch. But the silence subsided, replaced instead with stories from the past and the present – talk of supermarket deals my grandfather would’ve been proud of and stories of my aunt and mother having their one glass of sherry while cooking and feeling tipsy afterwards and recollections of my wife and me planning our wedding and now planning our family.
And everyone smiled again because tears dry up eventually.
And memories beget new memories.
Oh, and the sausage stuffing, while not my grandmother’s, still makes this chubby, adolescent-at-heart boy as happy as it did when he fell asleep beside his grandfather every Thanksgiving.
To see my previous reflection on all that I had to give thanks for one year ago, see “On This Thanksgiving, I Give Thanks.”