The Halloween candy has been overflowing, and Harper Lee and
Isaac have hardly had enough time to weed through and eat all the good stuff,
yet Jonesville City Hall has Christmas wreaths and lights up.  We are on the downhill sprint to
Christmas, folks.

This sudden switch from Halloween to Christmas always annoys
Harper Lee and Isaac who, in their infinite child-like wisdom, don’t believe we
should just gloss over Thanksgiving like a pesky formality that has to be
gotten out of the way before the real holidays begin.  They are still the age that believes in the Pilgrims and the
Indians.  They don their
construction paper headdresses (or black hats with buckles) and sit down together
to give thanks to God for the many blessings in their lives.  They take the time to enjoy November, a
beautiful and meaningful month all on its own.

Don’t get me wrong—Christmas is still on everyone’s
mind.  The plans are being made for
Santa letters right now.  Decisions
are being made about guinea pig requests and which Lego set is a necessity and
which would just be icing on the cake. 
And they’ve already begun the “How much longer ‘til Christmas?  Aaaauuuggghhhhh!  That long???” cries that seem to begin
sometime around Harper Lee’s birthday every year.

But despite this longing for the “most wonderful time of the
year”, they never seem to lose focus on Christmas’s little sister holiday.  I’ve heard people say that they don’t
like Thanksgiving, that it’s their least favorite holiday, which always puzzles
me.  It’s true that I don’t remember
a tremendous amount of fanfare around the holiday at our house, and we never
seemed to have a lot of traditions that were particular to that day, but I
always liked the feeling of Thanksgiving more than anything.

When I was little, most of our tradition centered around
food.  Basically, my mom got up at
the crack of dawn and began cooking a feast that would happen sometime between
1 and 2 o’clock.  My dad sometimes
worked for half a day and on occasion, he and Pap went hunting.  I remember one Thanksgiving in
particular when I begged and begged to go hunting with them. 

Daddy made a huge, albeit fairly safe, slingshot and told me
that I could hunt with that.  He
knew that if I were ever faced with actually killing an animal, it wouldn’t
happened, and if by chance I did hurt or kill an animal, I would die a thousand
deaths myself and never recover. 
So he made a weapon that couldn’t kill a fly and we set off through the
damp woods.  It had been raining
that morning, and the fallen leaves were slick with water.  A thin mist hung in the trees, and my
nose was running as I stepped quietly over the sticks and stumps and followed
Daddy’s footprints. 

Occasionally, we would stop and scan the treetops for
squirrels.  I think I might have
even taken aim with my slingshot and a piece of gravel from my jeans pocket,
but for the most part, we just walked through the still woods on an early
Thanksgiving morning and whispered to one another and tried to stifle our
laughter so as to not scare off any wild game.  Eventually, we worked our way from the woods behind our
house, up around the barn and back down across the backside of Miller’s cow
pasture, ending our long hunting trip on the back porch of Merdie and Pap’s
house.

I remember going into the kitchen, already hot from the
stove, the condensation thick on the windows and the smell of turkey and
dressing in the air.  I pulled my
little brown hat, the one with the dog ears that flapped against the sides of
my head, off and set my slingshot on the table.

“You get anything?” Pap asked.

“No, but I saw a whole bunch,” I said, sighing with
disappointment but also a little relief. 

If I had known to look, I’m sure I would have seen a look of
amusement on their faces, but I didn’t, and they were always good at hiding
those things.  If they ever laughed
at me, I never knew it.  They were
good adults in that way.

And when I think of Thanksgiving now, it is that morning
that most often comes to mind.  I
tend to think of cool, wet mornings after a long night of rain, the fog
settling over the fields around our house.  I think of the damp leaves and moss of the woods and the
long dirt driveway between our house and Merdie and Pap’s.  I think of warm kitchens and delicious
smells good enough to make my mouth water.  I think of the traditional turkey and stuffing at my house
and the occasional non-traditional bear or squirrel at Pap’s.  I think of sitting around an old
kitchen table covered with a worn vinyl tablecloth and family wandering in and
out all day, everyone waiting patiently for the food to be set out and for the
meal to begin.  I think of warmth
and laughter and my old family, something I miss more and more with every
passing year. 

I have my own family now, and I am working to create
traditions that belong just to us, but I miss the family of my childhood.  When my grandparents died, and maybe
even before that, what I knew of a larger extended family died with them.  I rarely see my cousins and aunts and
uncles anymore, and for that, I feel sorry.  Old resentments and bitter feelings have created rifts that
seem too wide to cross now, but my memories are there, warm and comforting in a
way that is often hard for me to explain.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think about Merdie and Pap
and all the wonderful things I gained from growing up in that little hollow in
the mountains, from running free in those woods, and from sitting around that
table, and I am grateful for the life that was.  This Thanksgiving, what I am most grateful for is my family,
both past and present, for the people who made me who I am and those who
continue to guide who I will become.  

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