By Shelley Murphy
As I finalize plans to celebrate Thanksgiving one week from today, I’m reflecting on memories of past holidays. Throughout the years, our family has shared traditional feasts gathered around tables near and far, but we’re always together.
When our boys were younger, we took advantage of their school calendar and traveled at Thanksgiving. Today, our boys are the ones doing the traveling and returning home for the holiday.
Preparing for my boys’ homecoming, I decorated our house with their hand-made crafts from elementary school. Some of the turkeys have lost a few feathers, the construction paper has faded and my sons’ scrawled names are barely visible, but the nostalgia of the treasured trinkets turns back time and reminds me of their first Thanksgivings.
I still wonder where the time went. It seems like yesterday that my boys were toddlers, and I worried if they’d sit still at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Then, as teens, I wondered if they’d sit down without a protest at the table. Today, as 20-somethings, I just hope they return home to sit at the table.
According to historic accounts, the first Thanksgiving in 1621 featured three days of entertainment and feasting. Today, many college calendars cause students to follow a similar schedule and their celebrations, including food, family and football, are crammed into a three- or four-day weekend. My sophomore son is one of the countless students leaving school on Wednesday and heading home for the extended Thanksgiving weekend.
But collegiate calendars vary, and some students find their college schedules keep them on campus over the holiday. So far, I’ve been fortunate and managed to escape the gaping absence of my boys at our Thanksgiving table. Although, when my older son graduated from college six months ago and moved halfway across country, his new address threatened to jeopardize our Thanksgiving. I spent months facing the possibility of a fractured family holiday.
For the first time, I wasn’t wondering how late my older son would be arriving home, but instead if he’d be walking through the front door at all on Thanksgiving. Thankfully, my son is coming home for the holiday, and he’ll join the projected 27.3 million airline passengers traveling next week.
Once the two people I’ve missed most these past several months arrive home, our holiday celebration begins. I’m not an enthusiastic chef, but on Thanksgiving I drag out age-old recipes and spend days preparing my family’s favorite foods. We will gather to share our family dinner and familiar traditions once the feast finally finds its way to the table.
One of our short-lived traditions began when my boys were in elementary school and I’d decorate the Thanksgiving table with chocolate turkeys. After finishing dinner, my older son bit the head off a chocolate turkey, grabbed the can of whip cream meant for the pie and filled the hollow of the turkey with whipped cream, creating an inspired dessert resulting in unparalleled indigestion.
Years ago, we borrowed our favorite family tradition from my aunt. Before we finish our Thanksgiving feast, someone finds a Talking Stick (aka, a fork from someone’s plate) and we pass the talking stick among us, taking turns sharing thanks and gratitude from the silly to the sublime.
Soon after the kitchen is closed and the leftovers are gone, it’s time for my boys to leave. As they go, I’ll remind them to call me when they get back to their apartments. They may live elsewhere, but I still consider the place where they grew up their home—at least for now.
The memories our family has created over the past 20 years will last forever, but I know the time is coming when we’ll start new and memorable traditions. It doesn’t matter to me how our traditions evolve, as long as they continue to gather our family together for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the SC Times since 2006.