It’s the season of gratitude, my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the festive atmosphere of Christmas and the New Year… I love it all.
But Thanksgiving is especially important to me. Maybe it’s because – as a convert to Judaism – it’s really the only family holiday I celebrated as a child that I still get to share with my own children. This time of year makes me emotional and a little weepy: there is an ever-present ache of missing my parents and grandparents and brother.
Thanksgiving in my family usually meant a week-long trip to my grandparents’ houses in South Georgia (they lived five miles apart in a tiny farming town – my parents met in seventh grade). It meant two days of long, delicious meals that often consisted of three kinds of meat and vegetables grown within 10 miles of the dining room. We’d have field peas that I’d helped shell on my summer vacation and pecans my brother and I had spent hours gathering in buckets from the trees surrounding the Pullen farmhouse. Lest you think it was some sort of organic farming paradise, you should know that we also had dump salad that came from six cans of syrupy fruit and a box of pudding mix, and a green “congealed salad” my maternal grandmother always made with lime Jell-O.
Besides Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving was the one time our family was always together and my parents rarely fought. It was also the only time of year no one told me to watch what I was eating or not-so-gently suggested “maybe you should skip dessert.” On Thanksgiving, you ate. And talked. And ate some more.
In Middle of Nowhere, Georgia, there wasn’t any hurry to do much of anything. This was before the days of Black Friday starting at midnight and 24-hour access to electronic entertainment. We had a Nintendo at home but my dad would’ve skinned us alive if we’d suggested bringing it to the farm. He wanted us to appreciate the world he grew up in — where kids were turned out of the house to do their chores at sunrise and came back hours later: dirty, hungry and happy. (By the way, this didn’t stop him from performing all kinds of contortions with the roof antenna to make sure he had access to the Georgia/Georgia Tech game on Thanksgiving Saturdays).
I remember sitting on the porch swing at Grandma B’s house for entire afternoons, or throwing a softball in the yard with Dad and my Aunt Linda. In later years we’d watch old movies on the satellite TV while we ate leftover turkey on white bread with Durkee’s, or take turns playing solitaire on the computer while the evening slipped away around us. As a teenager, I remember sitting around bored, listening to both sides of my family tell the same stories over and over. I had no idea then how important those stories were or how much I’d miss the rhythm of their telling when my parents and grandparents were gone. I also didn’t appreciate the gift my family (imperfect as they were) gave me when they set aside time for doing nothing.
These days, I find it almost impossible to give that gift to myself or my kids. Every minute of every day seems scheduled now, and my languorous holiday in South Georgia had disappeared even before my dad died. I can’t even take the kids to our family farm anymore, because it belongs to another family. It makes me sad that my boys will never pick up pecans under those trees or watch the sunrise over my grandparents’ pond from the breakfast table, eating a buttery homemade biscuit and feeling no need to fill the morning silence. It’s up to me to build a new tradition for them that honors the old. At least, every other year when we do Thanksgiving at our house and I’m (theoretically) in charge.
This year, I’m trying to be less of a perfectionist, and focus on what really matters. I’m working part of the week and doing my best to acknowledge my limitations and not stay up all night Wednesday cooking. Probably. Despite the fact that I am careening into this holiday on two wheels, I’m determined to make it an actual break. We are keeping our gathering intentionally small so we feel more like we are feasting and reflecting, and less like we are just entertaining. YES, I’m going to cook. NO we are not going to stress about having the perfect menu or getting the house totally clean.
YES to the Macy’s parade in our pajamas. NO to place cards and folding the napkins into interesting shapes (unless ‘kind of folded but slightly wrinkly, hey at least it’s clean’ is an interesting shape). NO to slaving over desserts instead of writing or hanging with the kids. YES to eating that store-bought pie straight from the tin if you want. With ice cream. And sweet potatoes. No judgement.
You probably won’t be seeing Instagram photos of my turkey or table this year. But we are going to take time out to relax and say out loud what we’re grateful for if it kills me. And if I can’t recapture my old Thanksgiving in my new life, there’s always the Virgin Islands. I feel pretty confident we could relax there.
[Hang on. Beach fantasy moment. *Sigh.* Okay, I’m good.]
Before I start trying to remember what you do with a 15 pound frozen turkey, I want to take a moment to say how grateful I am for all of you. THANK YOU for being amazing friends and readers all year long. You’ve showed up to virtual launches and live launches and made me laugh and said nice things. You’ve taken time out of your day to review the books on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as on your own blogs and websites. You’ve told me when you enjoyed my books and some of you have helped me make them better. You’ve been loyal friends, in a thousand different ways.
To thank you, for the next six weeks, I’ll be talking about gratitude and giving away a signed copy of THE MARRIAGE PACT every week. To enter, just comment on each week’s blog. You can get more entries by following the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget.
How are you celebrating Thanksgiving this year? How do you balance the pace of modern life with the need to slow things down sometimes? What are you grateful for? For me, it starts with the best guy in the world, the one whose support of me is ridiculously unfailing, and our two wild little boys.
Share your own gratitude, enter the giveaway, and may you feel lots and lots of love this season.
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