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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgivings

My ancestors began to arrive in the American colonies in 1630 and participated in the celebrations of harvests and of special days of thanksgiving from time to time through the years. George Washington proclaimed a thanksgiving day in 1777. The new nation celebrated thanksgiving days now and then through the years until the Civil War, and then President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in every November as a perpetual holiday.

I’ve got plenty to be thankful for. In the spirit of the holiday, I’m looking back at the last eleven Thanksgiving days and remembering specific things among the myriad heaps of things I could name that I am grateful for.

Eleven years ago my brother Dan was still alive and joined us for the holiday at my sister’s house. My! The boys were young then!

Look carefully and you can see the glowing eyes of my dog in the kitchen. Just beside his leg you can see more glowing eyes—the cat Daisy, who was crouching under the open dishwasher door where the dog couldn’t reach her without getting his nose scratched. He got his nose badly scratched. The dogs who belonged to the household no doubt warned my dog, but my dog was not one to take advice from anybody when it came to investigating cats and chasing them if possible. He had to learn the hard way that Daisy was In Charge of that household. Daisy is still alive, but my dog has been gone now for three years. How I miss him!

How I miss my brother Dan! He passed away just last January, and we never had another Thanksgiving together after this one this year pictured here. My family didn’t get together very often, and this had been the first time since another brother, Larry, passed away in 1998. We had gotten together that April to celebrate our parents’ golden wedding anniversary at my house. I am so glad that we did that. We couldn’t have known that that fall would see Larry suddenly leave us, and then my sister’s youngest child a month later.

Thanksgiving 1998 was so very hard. Larry’s funeral was the day before. I flew home Thanksgiving morning, grieving terribly, and my daughter picked me up at the airport, crying because one of my husband’s relatives became angry at her having gone and found her birth family. The entire family that was gathered at my sister-in-law’s house was so tense over the situation that nobody paid one iota of attention to me, nobody spoke one word of sympathy or acknowledgement that I had just lost my brother, the one who was dearest to me of all, the one who had spoiled me from the time I was little and who had made himself one of my best friends. I simply stood in the place of a buffer to my daughter, ensuring that nobody spoke one more word to her that wasn’t polite. I just wanted to get out of there. That year I was thankful at least that I had had a brother who was such a good friend to me.

My siblings and parents, as I said, rarely got together after that terrible year. But eleven years ago we were all together at my sister’s house and there was no drama, there were no hard feelings, no arguments or anything but a lot of laughter and a lot of fun.

The next year we went to Denver to visit our daughter and granddaughter. How thankful I am for these two! They have brought such happiness and fun into my life that I can’t even tell you how wonderful it is to have this daughter, this granddaughter (and my son, looking on), in my life.

The next year we were back at my sister-in-law’s house. Here is one of my grand-nephews, the one who is now working on becoming a television star. He is looking at the television and hoping dinner won’t be too long delayed. Can’t you just see the star quality he exudes?  He’s probably also thinking how he is going to be on that screen some day. I love my sister-in-law, the one who hosts Thanksgiving most years for us. She is one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. She hosts everybody who comes through her town. Her door is always open and there’s always a bed for any relative who needs one. She comes to our house every week and is indispensable to our family. I can never thank her enough for all that she does for us.

The next year we had a different set of relatives join us at the same house. My sister and her kids came, and another of my brothers was living with us at the time. Another of my husband’s brothers and wife came. Sometime in the past years of buying new computers and moving everything from older to newer, I accidentally deleted all my photographs of that year, so this scan of an album will have to do. This is the year I learned that my sister, of all my siblings, is devoted to Thanksgiving Day American football games. Whoever is playing, she has to watch. My husband and I are about the world’s worst sports fans. We never know what teams are playing in the tournaments, never attended our college games and never follow their teams, not for any sport. I was amused by my sister’s need to spend hours in the freezing cold basement watching a game.

The year after that my sister-in-law retired after 55 years of teaching and promptly came down with a life-threatening illness. She was in hospitals for more than two months, and so for Thanksgiving my sister and her children, two of my brothers, my mom (who had come to live with me permanently), and my little family were gathered at my house for the dinner of gratitude. Then while my husband and son and I went to visit the Sick, my family cleared everything up, washed and put away all the china and silver, picked all the meat off the turkey carcass and made soup stock with the bones for me. We were able to enjoy the afternoon as much as possible, happily noting that my sister-in-law had turned a corner and was finally on the mend. How grateful I am for my sister and brothers! They were so helpful that year of crisis.

The year after that we went back to the home of my sister-in-law for dinner. That morning I was out in my back yard taking pictures of my brother, who needed a new portrait of himself to use in a new online business venture. He wanted to try several changes of shirt and use a number of different props, so while he was getting things ready, I took this picture of my dog. We got this dog one early November day at the local Humane Society, ten years before this picture. He weighed 7 pounds and was the cutest, fuzzy little ball of goofy clumsiness you could imagine. He grew extremely fast and became, to our dismay, a biter. He bit everybody, not in any anger or by way of attack, but as a way of expressing his happiness at seeing and being with people—any person at all. We took him to numerous training sessions and finally found some guys who specialized in “aggressive” dogs. This wasn’t an aggressive dog though, we learned, he was one of the most intrinsically excited, energetic dogs ever. Most of the time he was supposedly still, he was trembling or at least panting a lot. We learned to treat him in a way that totally cured the biting and chewing and learned to channel his excess energy. He was a great dog! I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to have this dog in my life.

The next year we grew our first pumpkin in our garden. This picture shows the little jack-o-lantern picture drawn on the side of that pumpkin—I couldn’t carve it, it would have seemed like sacrilege to cut up that cute little globe. The other pumpkins came from my neighbor and were turned into pies. The acorn squash, grown in our garden, supplemented our Thanksgiving leftovers dinners. My sister-in-law always made everything for our Thanksgiving dinners herself and didn’t want any help with anything. Except one thing—my cranberry-orange relish. She always has me make that dish and bring it to her house. Our other sister-in-law had chickens and usually brought deviled eggs, which we sat around and ate during the morning while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television.

The following year we were at the same home of my sister-in-law, with the in-laws who had the chickens. But it had been the election year in the U.S. and I had run afoul of my husband’s family by answering truthfully whom I had voted for. And it wasn’t the approved choice of the rest of my husband’s family. I was made to know how terrible it was that I had voted the way I did. Not that it had mattered one bit in the state of Utah where I live! The majority of voters in the state always votes differently from the way I do and I’m sure that will always be the case. I did not answer—did not even acknowledge the rudeness.

This picture reminds me not of that part of the occasion, but of the charming habit my sister-in-law has of decorating every surface in her main rooms with seasonal objects. There is always something new to see there. One thing she has a lot of—nesting dolls. Her biggest set has thirty-two pieces and the tiniest is the size of a grain of rice. Most of her sets are Christmas-related, but here is one for Thanksgiving. She gave me one for Halloween, skeletons that glow in the dark.

And the following year all the surfaces were decorated similarly, everyone was the same, everything seemed to be a copy, but I found myself treated with solicitous kindness and interest, and I thought it was an interesting way of making it up to me. No verbal apology that would have completely cleared the air, but somehow the communication lines were open and I could tell I was expected to forgive and forget. I did forgive but of course haven’t forgotten. It is interesting that this election year, the relatives called up my sister-in-law and asked whom we all had voted for. She said that not one of us had voted for Donald Trump, and that yes, I had voted for the person they thought I would be voting for. But this year I was joined by my husband and son in voting for the same person. And this year the other relatives have decided not to join us. Perhaps it is best that we not meet until the election has faded from people’s memories somewhat. Politics should never part families. I am thankful that my extended family has negotiated a way not to allow that to happen.

The next year my daughter didn’t have anyone to eat Thanksgiving dinner with her, so we had her come home to us and join us in going to our usual place. My sister-in-law helped raise my daughter when she was a tiny girl and my husband and his first wife newly divorced, and she is very, very close to my daughter. It was wonderful to stay there and get up first thing in the morning before the parade was to begin and take a long walk with my daughter up the side of the mountain behind the house. We met these geese on our walk, hissing angrily at our intrusion into their territory. They should have been thankful they were not scheduled to be on the menu!

Here is a view of that wonderful things my sister-in-law makes, from last year. Besides turkey and stuffing, she makes an excellent gravy. The only person whose gravy comes close to hers is her youngest brother’s gravy. They both learned from the master cook, their mother. My husband was not interested in learning to make gravy, so when we have gravy, I have to do it. Mine isn’t bad, but it isn’t like theirs. Oh my. There are the sweet potatoes, and the cranberry relish sauce. I have a little dish of creamed pearl onions and a plate of “Grandma Salad,” which is green jello with cottage cheese, cream, mayonnaise, celery, walnuts, pineapple, and horseradish added. I don’t know if I know all the ingredients, but we all love this salad. The other green salad always has avocadoes, which I love, and radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and either bibb lettuce or romaine. This picture is funny because of the missing green beans. She had steamed the green beans, but we all had forgotten about them and they sat in the steamer until we were cleaning up later and found them.

I took a walk that afternoon up the same trail my daughter and I had taken the year before. Here are some of the “friends” I saw along my way.

This year we will not be staying overnight at my sister-in-law’s house as we have been doing ever since our dog died. (She did not welcome our dog in her house.) My mother can’t do as much as she used to, so it is best that we go down there early in the morning. Today I have been making the cranberry sauce and some pies. My sister-in-law has suffered me to make pies in recent years. She always makes a mince pie, and I make pumpkin and apple pies. I love pie and love to make them. My mother never did learn to make pie crust, but she encouraged all of my siblings and me to try and to perfect our abilities. My grandmother used the method of “Well, you take a little bit of this, about a handful of that, and a pinch of this other”—and somehow that all made a lot of sense to me while it never did to my mother. I always put extra spices in my pumpkin pie. We all like a spicy pie, so it has ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice in it. I am a clove fiend. If I had my way, I’d spice the apple pie with cloves too. But my relatives have limits on what I can do. Anyway, I’m thankful for the opportunity to make pies and cranberry and go to my favorite sister-in-law’s house tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody who is celebrating. “Be in thanksgiving daily,” says a scripture that I particularly like. Let’s be. Thankful.

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