Wednesday, November 24, 2010

over the river and through the woods

As I have mentioned before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, we used to go to my Aunt Louise's house. It was a big deal. I knew that because we all got new outfits. My mother would bake pies - pumpkin and pecan - contributions that would travel well, as we had the farthest to go.

As we drove along country roads, we passed an old stand-alone silo with "Fresh Cows" painted down the side of it. (Always a mystery to us kids, and I am still not exactly sure what it means.) We passed the prison farm, where on summer days we would sometimes see the inmates playing baseball or sitting on the bleachers cheering each other on. We saw cars pulled off the side of the road, and sometimes, we would see the hunters who had left them there heading out into the fields and woods. We drove through tiny crossroad towns with names that we loved: Erhart and Mallet Creek and River Styx.

My dad avoided the highways, so it took us a little longer than it might have, but when we finally arrived, we headed straight for the warm, fragrant kitchen. Aunt Louise would open the oven door so that we could see the huge turkey that seemed to fill the whole oven, already golden and glistening. I was instantly hungry, even though it was hours until dinner time. I still don't think anything compares with the aroma of a turkey or a chicken roasting in the oven.

As much as I loved the holiday meal, it was being with my extended family that made it a truly special day for me. We weren't a very big family, really. My widowed grandmother (my grandfather had died when my dad was only a child) my two aunts and their families, and the five of us. My dad was quite a bit younger than his sisters, so our cousins were all older than us. I just adored my older cousins, and they loved me right back. I hung on every word they said, and when I was very young I literally hung on them.

There wasn't enough room at the big oval table in the family room for all of us, so of course we sat at the kids' table. The problem with that was my brothers and I were the youngest kids, so it was just the three of us. It wasn't much fun to sit only with each other, as we did every day. One of our kind-hearted cousins, Butch or Greg, would come and sit with us, however, and I immediately felt included again.

It was dark and cold outside when we finally left, and sometimes my brother Bill would fall asleep on the way home, his head resting heavily on my shoulder. Truth to tell, sometimes I fell asleep, too. It's kind of funny. We spent our Thanksgivings there for maybe five years in a row - I don't know why we stopped going, I do know my aunts never liked my mother - but those five or so days are some of the best memories I have of my childhood.

I don't think my own kids have ever liked Thanksgiving all that well, and I am sorry for that, but it doesn't change how I feel about it. Everyone is on their way home to me today, and I couldn't be happier. I am glad we will celebrate the holiday here one last time before we move. It feels right to me.

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