For the last 26 years – also known as my married life – Thanksgiving has been a traveling holiday of alternating destinations. One year we travel to Wisconsin, to celebrate with my wife's folks; the next we travel to celebrate with my own.
But when I was young, shortly after the earth cooled, my family's home was the destination for most holidays. As I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant not having to get up and go to school. Nonetheless, I was usually up early, not only to see what my mom had going in the kitchen (she in turn would have already been up for hours), but also to make sure I didn't miss watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the television.
Back then, during the mid-'60s, there was a great deal more coverage of the parade itself, rather than of the elaborate, stage show performances that have come to dominate the Macy's broadcast in the years that followed.
When the parade was over with, my sisters and I would begin the annual ritual of “getting ready for company.” Everything out of place went back to where it belonged. The dining room table had to be elongated, with both of its extra leaves, and then set using the good tableware.
Soon our grandparents and one aunt, from our mother's side of the family, would be walking over from across the street and not long after, our aunt and uncle from our father's side, accompanied by their four kids, would drive up from across town.
Back then, there were still a good number of live poultry shops in the Chicago area. And since my grandfather refused to eat any bird we hadn't killed ourselves, the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner was usually still walking during the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning.
I still recall a traumatic experience I had one Wednesday afternoon prior to Thanksgiving, when I ran down to the basement looking for my father and came face-to-face with a tom turkey that was every bit as tall as I was. Maybe taller. We both stood there for a moment, staring at each other in the dim light of what was remaining daylight filtered through a small basement window above our heads.
The turkey said nothing. I turned and bolted back up the basement stairs, yelling at the top of my lungs, “Mmmmaaaaaaaa!”
The grown-ups probably had a good chuckle about this later on. To this day, I still get goose-pimply every time I get near a turkey exhibit at the state fair. One November morning while I was driving to work, some wise guy DJ blasted a turkey call out during a station break and I nearly drove off the road.
The years have passed, as have my grandparents, all of my aunts and uncles, one of my wife's parents and both of mine. The holiday traditions continue. One thing has remained constant about Thanksgiving, and other holidays like it: No matter the destination, it's all about family for us.
Grandparents. Parents. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Brothers. Sisters. And always, always children. These have surrounded me on various major holidays throughout the years – and there have been a lot of them now.
Oh, surely my position on the totem pole has changed over the years. I used to be one of the kids, a nephew and a grandchild; now I'm an uncle, an in-law and one of the parents. The general scheme of things, however, remains the same.
I will say this: The traveling has become a little easier for me over the years. When I first got married, starting the Thanksgiving holidays with a full tank of gas was very important, because even the local gas stations were closed on major holidays. I can only speculate that this is because, being people, retailers back then had their own families with whom to spend their holidays – and hearts that made them want to do nothing less.
To all of my readers, old and new, I wish a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!