When I was a child, my entire family -- on my father's and my mother's side -- lived in the same small town. We gathered for the holidays at my parents' house with two sets of grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and assorted stray friends. The heady aromatic incense of roasting turkey, green-bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, fresh bread, stuffing (no mushrooms, please, we're Midwesterners), and homemade cranberry sauce filled the house from early morning on.
The women worked in the kitchen (this was the pre-revolution, pre-Food Channel 1960s), while the men stayed in the den watching the Lions-Cowboys game, sipping cheap Zinfandel, and salivating. Two tables were set up to handle the hordes -- one in the living room, one in the dining room. After we sat down to eat, sometime in mid-afternoon, my father said grace and we dug in. When it was over, the women cleaned up and the men went back to the game and fell asleep.
That was long ago and far away, it occurs to me now. My children's experiences were different. They mostly grew up in the Northeast and spent their teens in Memphis. Some years, we would all make the journey to one set of in-laws or the other. Some years, we would stay put and celebrate with friends.
Now I'm on the other end of the holiday cycle, happy when one of my adult children or stepchildren makes it to Memphis for a major holiday. And resigned to the realities of travel and distance and jobs and relationships that sometimes make that impossible.
This year, it turns out my children will be elsewhere and I'll miss them, but I like to think at some point during the day they'll raise a glass of Zinfandel (more likely a nice Pinot) to their old man -- and to Thanksgivings past.
Soon enough, they'll learn time slips by like that muddy river outside my window, and we are powerless in its current. I think that's why the holidays come around every year: to remind us to be thankful for what we have -- and for what we've had. To celebrate with those you love, near and far, and to hold your memories close.