Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are no presents to worry about, not a lot of decorating, just family, friends, and food. Holidays bring with them traditions to which we either hang on or let go.
Shortly after I moved to Washington, my mother and father began coming down from Alaska to visit my sister and me around the end of November. My mother loved seeing all of the Christmas stuff in the stores and as you can imagine, shopping in a densely populated area offered a lot more choices than those available in my remote home town of 750 people. On one of these visits, she bought me a couple of small Schlumbergeras (Christmas Cactus.)
When I bought my first home, I was excited to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the family in my new digs. Little did I know nearly 25 years ago that on that day a tradition had been born. Each year since then, I’ve cooked and hosted our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Family from Oregon and Washington are always in attendance and sometimes relatives from Vermont and Alaska are able to come. My brother, who died young, left four beautiful children who now attend my feast with their own offspring. Although many of us see each other through the year, this is the one time when we are all together.
Setting the table and cooking the meal have become a sort of ritual of remembrance for me.
Everything I use, the china, depression glass, stemware, flatware down to the nut bowls
holds special meaning for me. Most things have been handed down to me by family and friends.Even some of the food memorializes loved ones. It is a special joy for me to share with the youngest ones at table that they are eating from plates which were a gift of their great grandfather to their great grandmother. That they are using flatware that belonged to their great great grandmother. That the silly old creamer in the shape of a cow was a treasured possession of their grandfather who loved it because it was given to his mother by her father. The names of those we talk about are just names to the little ones but for some of us, they hold our hearts to holidays and times past. There is something on the table to represent all of the members of our family present, scattered across the country and those we love but see no more.
I sometimes wonder about holding on to all of this stuff. Will future generations treasure it? I myself no longer use the linen tablecloths and napkins every year since ironing is not my favorite activity. What do we keep? What do we let go? What will the younger generation want and what will be dead weight? It doesn’t so much matter as right now there is a big old house with space for everything. In light of the hurricane on the east coast where so many homes and their contents were obliterated does it make sense to even think about such things? Nonetheless, every Thanksgiving eve as I touch the past while laying the table and each Thanksgiving as I hug the present and hold the future, I’m thankful for the most important thing present at our laughing, loud table - the love of my family. Perhaps memories of these Thanksgivings will bring a smile to some of those little ones when they are grown, making their own traditions and I am gone.
Each year around the beginning of November, those silly Christmas cacti were in full bloom and reminded me that it was time for my parents’ visit, and later years just my mom. Mom spent her last Thanksgiving with us in 2004 surrounded by loved ones and with her favorite of our Pomeranians in her lap. The first year they bloomed and I knew that there would be no visit was bittersweet.
A couple of springs ago, the plants had not been doing very well for quite a while and I decided that they would spend the summer outside in the shade of the bamboo grove . By fall, they were nearly covered with bamboo litter and I’d decided that they would stay outside for the winter to go the way of all living things. Come on, they’re just plants, they don’t look all that great and plants come and go all the time. Besides, they reside in an unused room upstairs where no one but I sees them. It was time to let go. The following November, I was out walking through the bamboo and from under the thick litter a flash of pink caught my eye. Brushing the leaves away I found two healthy - looking Christmas Cacti blooming their heads off. What could I do?
The plants are once again blooming in a small upstairs room where the only one who notices is me - and maybe my mom. This year I’ll be visiting family away from my home. We’ll still laugh and be as loud as always, the most important thing at the table will still be present, but it will be different, and I’ll miss my tradition. Before I leave, I’ll be sure to touch a plate, smile at a little wax turkey made a few years ago by tiny hands and most certainly open the door of that upstairs room to spend a minute visiting those blooming Christmas Cacti.
What are your traditions? What do you keep? What do you let go?
Wether you are in a part of the world that celebrates this holiday or not, may your day be filled with things for which you are thankful!