Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Done Right

Thanksgiving is...cozy and welcoming with the spicy scent of brewing cider.

Thanksgiving is...stuffing your face with another mouthful, even though your stomach might burst.

Thanksgiving is...the culmination of all of the tastes of the season with the final bite transitioning a person into winter.

Bobtail's Sweet Potato Pie ice cream is...the taste of Thanksgiving, transporting me home. But rather than talk about this delicious flavor, I'm going to talk about family.


This year I spent fall break in Spain, staying with my friend Louise in Barcelona. Her friends organized a Thanksgiving dinner in honor of some folks who’d recently moved from America. Half-expecting a paella-stuffed turkey, the meal was a delicious and hilarious hodge-podge with a few vague parallels to American Thanksgiving, like turkey being substituted with fried chicken. But, in a way, it was not unlike most Thanksgiving dinners I’ve had since moving away from home, feeling both joyous and incomplete. It feels as though the best any celebration could hope to be is second place because, for me, Thanksgiving is everyone packed in around the table during a crisp fall afternoon in Hampton, VA.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to live in the same city as one set of grandparents and my aunt’s family. We all liked one another so much that we spent birthdays and holidays together. Thanksgiving morning would start by giving gratitude at the morning church service and end at my grandma’s house. Once there, my brother Brian and I would ditch our ties and, while finishing touches were made on the food, my cousin TR and I would help out by raking the yard. We would inevitably finish leaf duty early and join my dad in the ritualistic sneaking of food from kitchen.

Eventually after being shooed away from our dutiful taste testing, the table would be set. There was always a surplus of food: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, yams, green bean casserole, Jell-O salad, rolls and, one of my favorites, a cylinder of canned cranberry sauce. Brian’s birthday is in late November, so every few years, it would fall on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing Brian likes turkey.

With so many people—Grandmama, Grandaddy, Aunt Shelia, Uncle Terry, my cousins Breea and TR, Mom, Dad, Brian and me—there wasn’t enough room at the table, even with the leaf put in. Each side of the family had a delegated member that had to sit on a small folding chair of questionable stability. This honor fell to the youngest member of each family—TR and me—because picking on the youngest is an age-old tradition. Both TR and I later grew up to be the tallest members of families, which I believe we willed into happening so we’d never have to sit in the smallest chairs again.

Each time the family sat down together you could expect a few hilarious things to happen: Uncle Terry would cause trouble by bringing up politics, Granddaddy would make a comment that the rest of us would regard as racially insensitive, we would hear about the crazy trouble some of Breea and TR’s friends had gotten themselves into and someone, usually me, would spill on the carpet.

One year, Grandmama had new carpet put in and we were all warned to be extra careful not to spill. Of course, no one ever tries to spill; it just happens. When I was the first to spill on the new carpet, there was a mild uproar that gradually turned into laughter. I was actually given a prize for being the first.

These traditions of the family all getting together—something we did for every birthday and holiday—continued as each of the kids started growing up, going to college and moving away. We all enjoyed spending time together. One year TR had finally had enough. “What’s wrong with us?” he asked. “We’re all so normal! None of us fight or get into much trouble! We all like each other!” And we all had to laugh because TR was right, but we liked it that way.

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