Most Americans love the holidays. Some dread them and are filled, not with joy and good cheer, but anxiety. And as Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas and goes out with a bang on New Year’s Day, a lot of people feel a bit depressed that the Holidays have come and gone.
But as I do the final bit of shopping to prepare for “Turkey Day” and another big family gathering, I always reflect on the past Holiday seasons.
I was born in November so for my first Thanksgiving I was only days old. And of course I don’t remember that day, but I know where I was and who was there. Perhaps my knowledge of the family attendees that day over 60 years ago comes from the stories, or the old and dulling photos, black and white of course. But mostly I know who was there because the same people were always there. There was no place on earth they would rather be.
We were at Granny’s old and rather spooky Victorian home in the Highland Park section of Richmond, Virginia. Granny was my Great Grandmother and the matriarch of the family. Grandpa died a couple of years before I was born, but I have no doubt Granny ruled the roost. She owned a Real Estate Agency and was a successful business woman in an era where that was a rare thing.
And over the next 12 Thanksgivings, the old Victorian House was where we spent the Feast of Thanks to God along with my parents, and as they were born my brother and my sister. And my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins that seemed to grow in number every year.
And Thanksgiving 1966 was the Final Thanksgiving for Granny. Of course we didn’t know it would be the last at the time. And if we had, I am sure there would still have been Turkey, Smithfield Ham that would make you drink water all day (it is very salty for you Yankee’s information). And giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans and carrots and other sides. And pies and cakes.
So in 1967, the venue was moved a few blocks away to Nana and Pop’s house. And the entire crowd from Granny’s moved to Nana and Pop’s. And the same feast was held in that same house for only 3 years. In 1969 Nana and Pop moved to Hanover County and his brother moved into an identical floor plan house that they had built next door.
And this house set a record, at least in my lifetime, for the most Thanksgiving dinners in one house. Every year from 1969 until 1994, 25 years in all, we all got together each year. And during that time, another generation was started and we were the uncles and the aunts with children and nieces and nephews running around. And 1991 turned out to be my Dad’s final Thanksgiving and 1994 was Nana’s Final Thanksgiving as she passed away in July 1995, just 2 weeks shy of her 85th birthday.
So in 1995, the home I grew up in became the next venue. My Mom still lived there and we had the feast there until 1999 when she moved to Hanover into a small, but brand new house.
I nearly missed Thanksgiving in 2000. I was in Manchester UK for work and was unable to get a flight back home to the states on Thanksgiving Eve, so I flew out first thing Thanksgiving morning. And let me say, flying on Thanksgiving was very pleasant. No queues and I was the only person in Business Class. We got into Philadelphia over an hour early and that allowed me to catch an earlier flight and I made it to Mom’s house around 4PM just as they were sitting down to eat. I was not expected in until 6:30 PM. They would have save me a plate, but it wouldn’t have been the same.
And that was to be my Mom’s Final Thanksgiving. And I have always been grateful that my flight was so early I had the extra time to spend with her. And 2003 Was my Grandfather Pop’s Final Thanksgiving. Pop managed to enjoy 93 Thanksgivings, a family record!
And that left my generation as the family elders. So our children and grandchild along with my brother and his kids all congregate at my sister’s house. Initially, my sister got the duty because the had the largest house. But she sold that house a couple of years ago and moved to a smaller place on the river in West Point, Va. We find plenty of room and set food out all over the house. Like so many buffet tables.
And there have been a couple of additions to the fare, but the Turkey, Smithfield ham and the rest are still the same as my first Thanksgiving in the old Victorian House in 1954. And prior to my birth Granny bought a place on the York River that remained in the family until my Grandfather passed away in 2004. So as the generations have come full circle, somehow the York River location brings back such wonderful memories.
Eventually we will all enjoy our Final Thanksgiving. And probably won’t know it at the time. It is a part of the progression of life.
This Thanksgiving, remember all the family and friends that have gone before you. Talk a little football and politics. Eat your fill of whatever it is you traditionally eat. Because while reflecting on those we have lost can be sad, it is these memories, more than most, that jog our memories of the silly uncle or grandparent making everyone laugh, nodding off with your head in your Grandmother’s lap, and going back for more Pecan Pie just before your parents leave.
And taking a sip of the eggnog from the container they told you not to drink from.
The connection to our ancestors we knew are never stronger than this amazing period of celebration in America that runs from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day.
And as long as we keep these memories alive, tell the stories, write about them, then there never is a Final Thanksgiving, is there?
(Remember that time Nana poured whiskey in her Fresca and called it a Frisky? They will, because I will tell it again!)
I wish everyone that takes the time to read my writings a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I am thankful for every one of you.
Article written by: Tom White