Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rethinking Thanksgiving

Grams has been ambivalent about the Thanksgiving holiday for a number of years now. Don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I embrace the "Americana" of it. I love the fact that it is a purely American holiday. And, clearly, I love the food. The only thing better than the roast turkey and cornbread dressing with cranberry sauce that we have at mid-day is the sandwich I have for dinner.

I realize that we all celebrate Thanksgiving in different ways. My mother always made a huge traditional meal for Thanksgiving and for many years the family gathered at Mom and Dad's to spend the day together. We started early with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and we always watched football. It was especially interesting when I brought my Aggie husband into my family of UT fans. And, of course, we all enjoyed watching the Dallas Cowboys, even when they lost.

As the years went by, traditions began to change. My siblings all moved farther away and gathering for Thanksgiving became impractical and unlikely. As we married and had our own families, it was natural that each of us made our own family traditions.

For a number of years, my sister Bylinda and I would cook and both of our families would get together for the day, usually at her house. Three years ago, after my father-in-law died, Grams decided to host a Thanksgiving for my husband's mother and sisters at our home. His brothers already had commitments to their in-laws. And, our children both celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their own in-laws, which means we get them for Christmas and that works for us.

Out of consideration for my husband, I won't go into detail about the fiasco that ensued, but by the time the kitchen was cleaned and the guests were gone, both of us were frustrated, hurt, and angry. After that day, both Grandad and Grams decided that we didn't need that frustration. We summarily "resigned" from participating in future Thanksgiving celebrations and informed family members of our decision. We decided that we would make our own modest meal at home spend a quiet day together topped off by going to a movie. Alternately, we might plan a get-away weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Last year, we picked up a turkey dinner from our local grocery store and had that quiet day together at home. It was great. We talked with our kids and other family members on the phone. I will admit that I felt a little twinge of guilt when my mother-in-law told us that she and one of my sisters-in-law went to Luby's for Thanksgiving dinner. But all-in-all both Grandad and Grams were happy with the quiet day.

This year, we were just too tired to do a big Thanksgiving. In recent weeks, we made several trips back and forth to San Antonio with a detour to El Campo for a funeral last week and, honestly, the idea of a drive to Seguin was just too much. But, having to do something with my sister, Kay, complicated our plans for a quiet weekend. Kay lives in a group home just a few miles from us. She often travels to spend holidays with one or the other of my siblings, but this year, she stayed with us.

Kay wants to be involved in everything you are doing and she craves having the hubbub created by a large gathering. Let's just say that a quiet weekend with us was not what she had in mind. How can I describe a five-day weekend with Kay? It's like having a very young child as a house guest. She wants to know what you are doing every minute of the day; she wants to "help" with whatever you are doing; she has a million questions; she gets up extremely early; you can't leave her unsupervised; she has no concept of privacy; and she has something to say about everything. Needless to say, I was relieved to take her home yesterday.

When I asked Kay what she wanted for Christmas, her reply was "I just want to have my whole family together." I explained to her that all of us getting together for Christmas is not in anyone's plans, since we all have families of our own and live far apart. I pressed her for another idea, but she was unyielding. The only thing she wants for Christmas is to have her whole family together and she doesn't understand that we all have other demands and commitments. I didn't even try to explain that we actually don't want to all get together for Christmas.

This discussion with her has led me to rethink future Thanksgiving plans. Maybe we can't all get together for Christmas, but surely some of us could gather for Thanksgiving, just because it would make Kay happy for that one weekend. We all have so much and she has so little. So Grams is going to begin a campaign among my siblings to gather for Thanksgiving next year. We'll see how receptive they are, but I know at least a couple of us can pull it off.

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