If you are starting this day off in preparation for a gigantic feast of turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams and green bean casserole, plus umpteen side dishes, salads, and maybe a ham for good measure, you have likely been doing this Thanksgiving routine for quite a few years.
Thanksgiving hasn’t always been so big. I can’t help thinking of a new generation, just starting out, wondering how they will get “it” all done. Among my friends, I’ve had at least two mention how a grandson or nephew has moved to a new apartment, or just welcomed a first baby into a new household. Fresh starts like these are just the setting for a new generation clamoring for Thanksgiving to be celebrated at their house this year. I hardly imagine the board will be groaning under their first attempts at feast-making—but the gathering will be just as special as always.
I can’t help thinking about another someone who will be doing her own cooking—this one far from home. Not in her own country, even. Try picking up a package of cranberries for a Thanksgiving dinner when you’re preparing it in Ireland. I imagine she’ll be hard pressed to succeed at that feature of the meal’s mainstays—though she did remind me of her shopping prowess when she once managed to procure dried ancho chiles for a favorite soup recipe, upon her arrival in Cork. With or without cranberries, she has been helping another forlorn foreign student cook up a feast for several Americans on campus today, and will follow that up with another joint effort back at her apartment this weekend—between turning in several final papers, no less.
That reminds me of my own first Thanksgiving attempt. In our humble one bedroom apartment, my galley-style kitchen became the scene of my holiday culinary debut. It was the first in a long line of episodes in which a fear of not having enough food for company—or dishes which my in-laws would, you know, actually like—produced the obvious outcome: more leftovers than our refrigerator could hold. The menu came complete with a choice of four salads for starters—something which my family has not let me forget. Of course, nobody chose; they had to taste all of it. By the time we got to the main course, who knows if anyone was still hungry.
Yet, it was on folding chairs that we sat around the tiny table holding that feast. Our living room “suite” was an extra-long twin bed covered in tie-dyed fabric, with bolsters along the wall behind us. I think we had some beanbag chairs. Our bookcase was made of planks of wood held up by cinder blocks—upon which our one proud possession, a stereo system, sat nestled with our umpteen books. Hey, we were starving students.
As we pass along family traditions to a younger generation, often it seems the memories preserved in their minds are of those grander, more recent, variations of our efforts as hosts. It’s easy for teenagers to remember the gatherings where they get together with their cousins while the older generations settle in for more subdued activities. Not as clearly remembered are those humble beginnings of the simple Thanksgiving gatherings when they were toddlers and their parents were just starting out. Those earlier times, however, were just as sweet—perhaps even more so.
I sometimes wonder whether that tradition of grand celebrations sets the bar so high for the next generation that it provokes a sense of competition. Somehow, each new generation has to be better than the last. When it comes to more, though, in the realm of blessings, perhaps we face a diminishing return. The more we have, the less grateful we seem to be for each blessing.
As a country, too, we once had a small beginning. Once, it was a time that demanded not just hard work to get by—it was a question of struggling for survival. Whether you consider the “first Thanksgiving” to have been a legend or a reality, there is no question that there was a time when blessings were received with more thankfulness—every single blessing held a more significant meaning for its recipient.
After all these decades of bigger and better blessings, on this day today, I hope that, whether you ate too much pie, or had to go for a long walk before you could tackle that second round of leftovers, your sense of blessing will remain as keen as it ever was in the time of your small beginning.