Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE! It didn’t used to be so—I mean sure, as a child I loved to sing about the great, big turkey down on Grandpa’s farm, but mostly it was just a blip on the radar screen between Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas.
Growing up we’d make the trek to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Cache Valley, which felt like an eternal pilgrimage. I’d try to fall asleep as soon as I could to dream away the miles. One year I nodded off in the hatchback of our crappy blue Toyota and woke up a couple of hours later, surprised to find we were still on the road.
“We’re not there yet?” I rubbed my eyes and looked from window to window.
“Not quite. Can you figure out where we are?” My dad grinned from the front seat. Still groggy, I searched the landscape until slow illumination dawned.
“Is that...hey...that’s not...is this...WE’RE BACK HOME?” I accused.
And sure enough, we were. We’d been snowed out of the canyon and forced to turn back.
Of course, we’d planned to gorge ourselves in Logan, thus we’d kept our cupboards sparingly stocked with cream of celery soup and Spam. So we parked in front of the only store open on Thanksgiving Day—Circle K—and each of us was allowed to create our very own festive meal. I chose yogurt and red licorice laces.
Best. Day. Ever.
That wasn’t the only time we were snowed out of the canyon. One year, we drove in a blizzard through Sardine in our spray-painted brown van, with tires so bald the back end whipped from side to side like a girl in a grass skirt.
This sort of thing tended to make my dad a little bit anxious. And by “a little bit anxious,” I mean crazy eyes, pulling at his shirt collar, running his fingers through his hair and constantly rearranging himself in his seat. Then he rolled down his window to shout and gesture at each passing car, “TURN BACK! TURN BACK BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK—IT’S A DEATH TRAP! TURN BACK OR YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
We didn’t all die, but probably other people did. I don’t know. I didn’t read the obituaries.
On the occasions we did arrive, there was a magnificent feast to behold! Homemade rolls and pies covered every surface, the finest china and polished silver graced white lace tablecloths, and the breezeway pantry was filled with chocolate turkeys, homemade penuche, and dollops of merengue and divinity. The day was spent in prayer, chatter and hours and hours of filling our bellies, letting it settle for a bit, then topping it off again with a swig of Pepsi and “just one more piece of caramel”. We drove home happy, grateful...and with the windows opened a smidge because we were all a little bit gassy.
The years passed, and before I knew it, over the river and through the woods morphed into half a block down the street, as my own parents became host and hostess. Then, they passed the torch to us. And suddenly, I became Queen of List Making. Which started me wondering—Is it all worth it? This exhaustive attention to detail for just one simple day?
Right about that time I read an article about a family celebrating Thanksgiving. And though I can’t remember the words that were written, the pictures painted more than a thousand words—people milling about in pajama pants and stained t-shirts, holding paper plates and plastic utensils, standing at the bar around aluminum pans filled with beans and wienies, then gathering around the television to watch football, before figuring out their game plan for hitting the stores at midnight.
The dumbing down of America.
Then I remembered what my Grandma Sybil used to say, “Poor people have poor ways.” Even as a child I knew this meant we become poor when our customs become poor...it has nothing to do with money.
And suddenly, there was clarity. The fresh flowers and pressed linens...the napkin rings and silver pitchers...the washed windows and scrubbed baseboards and nine eggs and six cubes of butter in every batch of rolls...those weren’t just exhausting “details”. They were gifts.
Gifts from pilgrims who found themselves alive and well in a new home and declared a celebration was in order. Gifts from pioneer ancestors who swept their dirt floors one last time before they were driven from their homes. Gifts from grandmothers who brought out the red velvet covered sterling and taught a child how to polish and shine each piece and from parents who demonstrated through word and action never to treat sacred things lightly.
An abundance from God, Family and Country, wrapped up in culture and tied with tradition, which must never be replaced with pajama pants and paper plates.
Bless every one of their hearts, for they have filled my cup to overflowing. And as I lay me down to sleep, I give thanks that no matter how small my bank account, I will never, ever be poor.