When I was growing up, we always celebrated Thanksgiving with my Dad’s family. Now that my cousins and I are older, we’ve taken over hosting Thanksgiving, but with a twist. It’s been hard to get everyone together on Thanksgiving itself, so we have a “Pre-Thanksgiving” celebration. This year my cousin and her husband graciously hosted our family in Midland, Michigan, this past October.
After our breakfast and during our exploration of Midland, my aunt and I discovered the trail that led to my cousin’s house. It meandered along the river for part of the way, and even though it was overcast, it was a beautiful day. My aunt has always been a walker, but now that she’s 80 years old, she moves a bit slower than she used to. I kept her company and we chatted about books and teaching preschool, while Lily and Emmy went ahead with my dad. When Dad found out that we had about a mile to go, he thought it would be too far, but then he stumbled upon the cemetery that is right next to my cousin’s neighborhood. He and the girls rambled about quite happily, looking at the tombstones.
Towards the end of our walk, it started to sprinkle on us, so we were quite happy to reach our destination. While I started off with another cup of coffee, some time that afternoon my cousin’s husband put a Long Island iced tea in my hand! I wasn’t going to argue with him.
The house itself is beautiful. It’s a big house, with plenty of places to store things. In fact, the house may have too much storage space. My cousin, who is very organized, had bought the perfect paper plates for our Thanksgiving meal. She put them in a very safe place. So safe that she couldn’t find them! I helped her look for a little while, but the iced tea made me quite unambitious. She even sent her daughter’s boyfriend out to buy more plates, when voila! She remembered they were in a salad bowl on top of a dining room cabinet!
The day flew by. I visited with various aunts and uncles and cousins. Lily and Emmy were just beside themselves with joy when their second cousins arrived and the real fun (according to them) could begin. We ate a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. (We almost lost the pies, but I believe they were found in the master bedroom.) We sang, told stories, sat around the fire pit, and played cards.
The day had turned dark, and it had been raining on and off ever since we had arrived. When I told the girls it was time to go back the hotel, Emmy looked up at me, a bit worried. “Mommy, I don’t want to walk to the hotel in the dark,” she said, very seriously. I had already arranged for a ride back, and told her not to worry. I didn’t want to walk back to the hotel either!
Our trip to Midland was spontaneous…as spontaneous as I get these days. I had originally decided not to go, since Ed couldn’t go with us. While I wish that Ed had been there too, I was also glad that I had made the trip by myself, with Lily and Emmy. Seeing my family made the solo road trip worth every mile!
There was this one Thanksgiving when my mom tripped while she was carrying corn to the table. The corn flew everywhere, and even stuck to the ceiling. We joked when we moved that there was probably corn still stuck in the rough, textured surface.
As a pastor’s family, Thanksgiving was a little different for us. My dad always had to work on Thanksgiving morning and preach a sermon. Three out of four of my uncles were also pastors, so they were also preaching on Thanksgiving Day. After church, we would load up the car and drive to the Midwest town to the family that was hosting Thanksgiving that year. Sometimes we drove to Detroit, Michigan. Other times we drove to Canton, Ohio. Sometimes we were lucky and got to stay put because we were hosting Thanksgiving. That night, as our relatives all met up in one place, there were hugs and kisses and lots of noise. The moms and aunts would start preparing for our big meal the next day–the Friday after Thanksgiving.
There usually wasn’t a bed for all of us. The cousins would sleep on the floor with blankets and pillows and the rare sleeping bag. The grown-ups got the beds. It usually took a while for us to go to sleep, with all the talking and giggling we did. The aunts and uncles yelled at us to be quiet and go to sleep!
The next day, when everyone else was eating leftovers, was our big Thanksgiving Feast. Turkey and green beans, mashed potatoes and corn, cranberry sauce and oh so many good things to eat!
Our extended family has grown and our traditions have changed. We no longer get together on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But the memories of those Thanksgivings past stay with us always.
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Karen H. lives in Chicago, Illinois. She describes her Edgewater neighborhood as the “Mayberry” of Chicago. Right before the birth of her oldest child, Karen’s husband had an aneurysm and was in the hospital for five weeks. “I did not have to cook for about 2 months, since all the neighbors brought food, including stuff to go into the freezer,” she told me. Now she is part of a neighborhood group which provides a “meal train” for anyone who has just had a baby. “That list has grown to over 700 families in the surrounding area. We have done several fundraisers to benefit local charities. The most popular was a cook book which grew out of all the great meal train meals.”
Sharing food with each other in times of stress is international. Sarah, an Executive Coach in Oxford, UK, says, “My friends supported me by inviting into their homes when the children were with their dad. [There was] nothing worse than having to face an empty house when my marriage fell apart. Sometimes it would be dinner parties–elaborate affairs that made me take a shower & smile & see the world. One of my favorite memories is laughing at Ruth and Ian’s house. [We had] a meal of gazpacho & Middle Eastern salads & lamb (her family is from Israel). We sat on stools around the island in her kitchen, inhaling ice cream from pints and talking about the challenges of in-laws. I knew then, that life would be better.”
Even people you don’t even know will step in to lend a helping hand. Karen O. had just moved to a new town in Tennessee. “I had a herniated disk within 2 months of living here and was confined to my living room floor! Before my injury I joined the local MOMS club. They set up a week of dinners for us the week of my surgery. More important than the food was the complete strangers that I could meet every day!”
Giving meals also teaches our children how to be kind and to help others in need. Karen C. lives in suburban Kansas City and is a blogger at Adventures of Cancer Girl. She writes, “From the time my daughter was a few months old until she started kindergarten, I belonged to a local moms group. There were about 50 moms in the group. One member was in charge of organizing meal delivery every time one of our members had a baby. …We could sign up for a specific day on our Meetup site and deliver our meal on the day we picked. Most were home-cooked meals (lasagna, casseroles, etc.), but I became known for always delivering a rotisserie chicken meal (with sides and dessert) from the grocery store deli. When I’d deliver the meal, I’d get to meet the new baby and chat with the mom for a while. I would usually take my daughter with me so she could feel like she was also helping out, and she always loved meeting the babies.”
Holly Spangler, an agriculture journalist at PrairieFarmer.com, says it wells when she writes, “Food is powerful, is it not? Not just for sustenance, though it handles that well, too. But for comfort for a grieving family, for a sick family, for a family that’s just had a baby. Our church, like a lot of others, specializes in delivering meals – a ministry, all in its own. Food as help and comfort is universal, so say my new Chicago mom friends, who report that their temples and suburbs do the same. Whether in the shadow of a high rise or down the dusty gravel roads of southern Illinois, food helps make it better.”
While providing a meal doesn’t take away the grief, doesn’t help the baby sleep through the night or provide an instant cure, a meal is a great comfort when a family is going through a stressful time. It’s not only the food that is comforting, it’s the knowledge that someone else cares and understands what you’re going through. That is comfort indeed.
I wrote this article for Queen Latifah’s website a year ago, and wanted to share it with you today and tomorrow. It’s rather long, so I’m dividing it into two parts.
My mother died early on a Monday morning. It was November 23, the week of Thanksgiving. While everyone else was preparing to be thankful for all their blessings, we were a house of mourning. We decided to have Mom’s funeral the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so that relatives and friends would have time to be with their families for Thanksgiving, then travel to be with us as we remembered Mom.
We spent Monday and Tuesday of that week planning the funeral and ordering flowers. The rest of the week seemed as though it would last forever. We were a grieving family in limbo, and a major holiday was looming in the meantime. As the oldest child and a mom myself, I had no idea what to do for Thanksgiving dinner. We had to eat something, but we were all too exhausted to make a turkey dinner. Plus, we were still at that point in our grief where we just didn’t care what we ate.
Thanksgiving came. And with it came a whole Thanksgiving dinner, made for us by a woman from my parents’ church. She made two turkeys that day, one for us and one for her own family. Her thoughtfulness and her delicious meal helped us get through that difficult week.
In this world we live in today, some have lamented that we aren’t connected the way we used to be. Even in the age of the internet and social media, there seems to be a social disconnect from what is important. Families have become more spread out; does our “village” still exist, especially in the cities and suburbs that seem to sprawl across our country? Since I’ve been the recipient of many meals over the years, I decided to ask others if they have ever received meals.