Jewish World Review Nov 23, 2011 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5772
Treating people we love like the Jello salad at Thanksgiving dinner
By Sharon Randall
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Traditions are like the people who try to keep them: Sooner or later, like it or not, they change.
Growing up, I spent most Thanksgivings at the home of my grandparents eating ham (not turkey), green beans (not broccoli), candied yams (not mashed potatoes), pecan pie (not pumpkin, and never apple) and chasing my squirrelly cousins around the house.
Once a week or so, my mother and her mother would have a big falling-out and stop speaking to each other, a sticky situation that my granddad described as the social equivalent of a fistfight in an outhouse.
If the falling-out fell near a holiday, my mother would refuse to show up for the family gathering. We'd either stay home or, worse, go have dinner with my stepfather's mother (who looked just like my stepfather in a flowered dress) and his other kin, who were decent enough people, but different.
I didn't want different. On holidays, I wanted everything and everybody to stay the same. But I couldn't wait to change all the other days of the year.
Growing up is a tug-of-war between the old and the new, the familiar and the strange, the safety of home and the lure of what lies beyond the horizon.
At 19, when I left my family in the South to spend all my days in California, I didn't realize that would also mean holidays.
Every Thanksgiving I'd call my mother long distance and get an earful of what I had missed. By then, my grandmother had gone to her "reward." They weren't fighting anymore, but they still weren't speaking much, either.
"If I could have her back for just one day," my mother said, "things would be different."
Different? Really? What do you think? Given a second chance, would things have been better between them? Would they have chosen their battles more carefully? Laughed harder and argued less? If they had realized their days together were numbered, would they have been slower to take offense and quicker to offer grace?
Sometimes we treat people we love like the Jello salad at Thanksgiving dinner. It's easy to take them for granted. We don't miss them until they're gone.
My traditions, like my life, have changed over the years. I suspect yours might have, too.
When my children were growing up, we celebrated the holidays with their dad's family. After he died, we began staying home, or rather, I stayed and the kids came to me. We invited friends to join us, and pretty soon Thanksgiving turned into a great big, two-turkey wingding.
Years later, when I remarried, my new husband pitched in with cooking and carving and cleanup. His two boys joined us, and the celebration kept growing.
Then a job change moved us to another state, and once again, our traditions changed.
This year we'll gather at the home of my youngest and his wife and their 15-month-old, who's about the size of one of the turkeys I'll stuff. Joining us will be the newest addition to the family: My 2-month-old grandson, who's about the size of the Jello salad his mother insists I have to make.
It will be different in some ways from every Thanksgiving I have known, but this much, at least, will remain the same.
I will set two tables for all the people I hold dear: One in the dining room for those who'll be with me; and one in my heart for those who will not.
I'll eat too much, laugh too loud and count my blessings, giving thanks for the gift of family and friends and the awareness of numbered days.
To you and yours from me and mine, happy Thanksgiving.
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