We Gather Together

by Laura

Happy Thanksgiving.

As a child of fairly recent immigrants, on ALL sides…birth father and mother, adopted father and mother…I am constantly fascinated that my Husband’s family were here before America was much more than an overseas trade venture. He has a ship captain forebear that hailed from Suffolk, England, whose family were Members of Parliament and who regularly sailed up and down the eastern seaboard (Massachusetts to Virginia, circa 1635). He has landowners who were Quakers, who got their land grants from William Penn, the man who founded Pennsylvania. He is not just a Son of the Revolution, but a Son of every war we’ve ever had… and then some. So it is with a great deal of interest that I work with him on his family history, marvelling on just how long (as in, early 1600s, most of them, long) his families have been here in the States.

400 years worth of Thanksgivings. Incredible.

My families have had about 100-150 years worth of Thanksgivings. We’re still on the hors d’oeuvres, in comparison.

In much more recent memory, much more recent, I’ve been thinking a lot about The Family Traditions that Thanksgiving offers. For most of us…okay, for me…it’s all about The Food. Growing Up, the menu was pretty much Inviolate. Carved in granite. The 11th Commandment:  For on This Day, thou shalt eat these foods, and these food alone. Christmas you could mess with, a little, but Thanksgiving was a forgone conclusion.

As a very wee child, I remember one Thanksgiving at my Mom’s house (which might possibly make this a Chirstmas Eve, but, maybe not as I don’t see a tree in the pictures). My cousin Bob and I are in high chairs. Bob’s Dad’s parents (my Uncle Kenny), immigrants from Hungary, are there, as is all the usual suspects:  Grandparents, Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, seated in my Mom’s old dining room; Uncle Kenny and my Dad and our Uncle Babe with platters…not plates…of food. I have an old photo of this, somewhere, as well as a reel-to-reel recording of all the conversations going on. Very fragile, that tape, which I purloined right before my Mom died, 15 years ago. She found it when she and my Dad moved house, almost 40 years ago. The voices of everyone, including Grandma and Grandpa Schiller are on there, but you cannot play it anymore (assuming I could find which box I have it stored in). Very cool.

Then there is the Thanksgivings we had at my Aunt Joanne’s. My Uncle Kenny was a fantastic cook. We always had my Mom’s Mom’s (Nonny’s) dressing recipe with the turkey. One year, Bob played Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with the bass cranked up so that it shook the house. Yeah…good times! After dinner drinks were something called Angel’s Kisses: heavy cream floated on top of cream de cacao sealed with a cherry. I remember the year Cold Duck was all the rage. I was really glad when that went passé and we were back to wine or champagne.

Anyway, the older cousins, Bev and Doreen, eventually took over, as they did on Christmas. I got married, Bob, my Sister, his Brother grew up and went we all went off into our own lives and the family venues for holidays changed…

We rarely got back home for Thanksgiving, being military. Most of my Thanksgivings consisted of my little Family of 4 and sometimes, friends in the area. Diane’s first year at University, she invited her group of International Students over for the weekend. Come! experience American Thanksgiving! What a blast! So much fun! Imagine 12+ Internationals sleeping over and grazing on Thanksgiving dinner…all.day.long.

In 2004, Thanksgiving fell as Diane graduated from University (finally…but that’s another story). It turned out to be our last Thanksgiving with Rick. The Friday after, we were having her Graduation Open House. But for that Thanksgiving, I was cooking for about 30 family and friends. We started with Grandma’s snik-snaks and drinky-drinks (yes, we have a name for everything). Julie, now married, took care of most of that, enlisting Diane as additional help.  I remember getting up about 5:00 am to begin roasting a 30-ish pound turkey. Julie and Diane, my sous-chefs, and I made all the Traditional Fixin’s:  sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, my Mom’s recipe dressing, relish trays, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, persimmon pudding (from wild Indiana persimmons), rolls with apple butter… It was carb heaven. And it was so very much fun. It was like all those other Thanksgivings from years past, lodged in my memory, spilled out in one glorious moment. We crowded around the tables, held hands, and gave thanks…

In 2008, my Thanksgiving included 3 new Grandbabies, a new Husband…and a whole family that came with him. This year, my Thanksgiving includes yet more new Family, although not so “new”, exactly; my “Buffalo” Family: Brother, Sister, StepFather, Nephews, Nieces, Cousins, lots of Cousins! and David and I expecting another Grandbaby. Indeed, there is much for which we are thankful this year…

For there is always something for which to be thankful:

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies:
Christ our God, to Thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise…

May you and yours have a wondrous, glorious, blessed Thanksgiving.