Those of us in the American "Baby Boomer" generation and older can probably remember the lovely and nostalgic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving cover for the Saturday Evening Post magazine. It is a classic depiction of a happy and very white family sitting down to a family feast designed to inspire Thanksgiving for all of God's graces and the highest form of family love and togetherness. And I can honestly say that it represents Thanksgiving gatherings of my childhood - well, that is, it represents a lovely moment-in-time and those lovely moments usually lasted as long as it takes to look at the painting.
Seriously, did anyone really have a whole day like that? In my family, in whichever configuration of the year that included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there was a huge amount of required "traditional" food (turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, creamed pearl onions, green beans (just plain, the casserole dish came later), jellied cranberry sauce (why do they call it a sauce?), fresh baked rolls with butter, and pumpkin pie. Dinner was always late (sometimes very late) getting to the table as there was always so much to prepare, people arrived early or late, the kids' table impeded movement, and we were hungry and boisterous.
The combining aromas of roasted fowl, cinnamon and brown sugar, pumpkin and gravy were as an aphrodisiac of sorts. FINALLY we said our prayer of Thanksgiving - Grace - and oohed and ahhhed as the huge browned bird was processed in and placed on the table to be carved. Passing of bowls from one direction, the chinking sound of serving spoons and cutlery on china, ice and water pouring into crystal (or lesser glass depending on one's age and table status) were the background music as everyone settled in and began to devour - politely more or less - the banquet set before us. And then...something triggered a response from one of us kids or a tolerated relative would make a comment that more than triggered a response from another more entitled relative that would then provoke a louder discussion.....and the ensuing "discussion" continued while the food was consumed, the pie and coffee or milk served, clean up begun, coats put on and cars driven away. Then there was the endless dissection of the event by the "adults" until Christmas, when we all began again. I do remember one near fist fight at my grandmother's dinner table...and we laugh about it, now.
And then there are the precious origins of this feast of "Thanksgiving" for the hosts of those who had traveled far to settle in this wild land. I know that my First Nation friends bear in their bones the memories of all the later "-ations" they and peoples of color who followed suffered at the hands of those who themselves were said to have been escaping persecution: Intimid-ation, discrimin-ation, annihil-ation, recrimin-ation, subjug-ation, degrad-ation.
In this age, overloading on football and 'way too much food are the prevailing hallmarks of this holiday. Followed immediately or simultaneously by retailoholism by shopping online and in those chain stores who will be open today. Our culture exacerbates the expectation of over-eating, over-drinking, and over-spending. Seasonal decorations that begin creeping in before Labor Day and TV ads determine our needs and greeds. When juxtaposed against the reality of so many homeless, hungry, un- and under-employed as well as those who are grieving, depressed, alone, and/or seriously ill, Norman Rockwell's idyllic scene becomes a caricature of the time that never was. BUT WAIT....there is still hope in that lovely image...
Whatever your life circumstance, this mark on the calendar offers a chance to remember a moment-in-time that gives you pleasure, soothes your soul, makes you laugh, warms your heart. Find a moment to give thanks in whatever way lightens your burden - through prayer, a phone call or text, an email, a donation to the ringing Santas at the grocery store.
For myself, I am grateful that I feel wanted by those I love and for having more than I need even if not all that I want.
I am thankful for the friends who are like family and even more so for family who are my friends.
MOST OF ALL, I am thankful for the gift of happy memories, even of Thanksgivings-gone-wrong, and most especially for those who have been with me in the most difficult moments of life. I can set aside the grief of the past for today.
Everyone has a story with a beginning, a middle, an end. We have good days and bad, ordinary and outstanding. Today is just a day, but it is in what we make of it that will tell the tale in days to come.
Thank you, Norman Rockwell, your painting is food for thought.
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