Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You don't have to worry about new clothes or picking out the perfect gift, you just get to eat. In fairness, though, if you asked me in spring, I'd probably say that Easter is my favorite. Ask me in December and it's Christmas. I just love all the holidays and I'm sure that's because I come from a big family who loves any reason to celebrate. Lots of traditions, big and small. Even after my parents separated and eventually divorced, we kept up our traditions as best we could. Thanksgiving with my father's family. Christmas Eve with my mother's.
Every Thanksgiving was always a big family gathering on my grandparent's farm (formally known as "going to Granny's"). Even after my grandparents passed away in the '80s, we continued to get together. Lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Then along came 1990. That year I added a Mrs. to my name and a whole bunch of miles between the farm and me. My husband Chris and I had barely been married a month and he had just reported to his duty station in DC, so we weren't able to go home for Thanksgiving. I was sad about that, but determined to make Thanksgiving special - even more so when my dad and my new father in law said they'd love to spend the day with us. The only problem was that I'd always gone to huge dinners where everyone brought tons of food. And I never, ever was responsible for the turkey. Yikes! Thank goodness for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. They had an entire Thanksgiving menu in their November issue that looked perfectly doable. It was, however, a Yankee menu - with a traditional stuffing recipe. (with my apologies to you Yankees, I use it as a term of endearment. Really.) I'd never in my life had stuffing. Only southern style dressing. Which, believe me, are two entirely different things. I don't care what any other bloggers say. They are.
So I did what any young bride who marries outside of her culture does: I made the stuffing for my new father in law, hunted down my family's dressing recipe for my father, and made homemade mashed potatoes for my husband. Along with my first turkey, cranberry apple relish, some veggies, and pumpkin pie. It was a success, if I do say so myself, with the possible exception of me getting a little carried away with the sage in the stuffing. My polite FIL's comment, "Oh, is that what that was?"
Over the two decades since then, our Thanksgivings have evolved. We tried very hard to go home to South Carolina in those early years. As the children arrived, and it became apparent that Chris would never be able to leave work before mid-afternoon the day before turkey day, we had to realize that getting stuck somewhere in North Carolina on I-85 around midnight was not ever going to be fun. We reluctantly began to spend Thanksgivings in Maryland. It made me sad to miss the big family gatherings, but we were determined to start our own traditions. I continued to make the same big meal I'd first made as a newlywed. My (Yankee) children learned to love stuffing. We rarely were alone on the 4th Thursday of November. Sometimes, family members would brave the interstate and join us. More than once, we had a table full of jarheads. Who could forget Wally and Pagan, sitting on the couch with pillows stuffed up their shirts to show their appreciation of the meal?
One year, five year old Jacob (the only Arnold child who had never been on an airplane) and I flew down to SC, were met at the airport by Buddy and Elaine, and he enjoyed a few days as an only child. In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, Chris and the other four children joined us, after the traditional extended parking lot stop on I-85. That was the year my uncle Aubrey was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and wasn't up to eating with us. But at least we were home.
In our last years in Maryland, we spent Thanksgiving in our own home. But always, throughout those years, through the '90s, the new millenium, and marching on toward retirement in 2010, one thing kept me going: The image in my mind of us hosting Thanksgiving in our own home back in South Carolina. No marathon driving, no getting stuck in traffic, surrounded by family like all those childhood and young adult memories. All of us, those who are still with us, together. Maybe even all of us eating stuffing. Maybe not.
This is the year! It's almost Thanksgiving 2010 and dinner plans are underway. I've invited my whole family, including aunts, uncles, and cousins. It's going to be great. I've pulled out those Better Homes and Gardens recipes that I've used through the past 2 decades, I've bought a new 120" table cloth (from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I got a great deal!) and my grocery list is complete. Twenty years of dreaming of this day, us back home in South Carolina, hosting Thanksgiving. I can't wait.