Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: Then and Now

Today was Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America. For many, it is the most important holiday of the year. It is a time when families join together and share a meal, reflecting on their lives and giving thanks, appreciating life. For some people, Thanksgiving is about parades and football and cooking. It's about that turkey dinner.

Growing up, it was like that for me. No matter whose house the Thanksgiving family gathering would be held, the men would settle around the television set to watch football or crowd around in the living room to play with someone's new gadget, and the women would gather in the kitchen to prepare the food for the big meal. Except my Grandpa John. He always had a foot in both rooms. Now that I think about it, I can see where my mom inherited her need to be constantly moving and doing something.

As for my brother and I, the only children in the crowd, we'd often be off playing or occasionally put to work by one of the women. Or you might find me tucked away somewhere reading. "Come join the rest of the family" was a refrain I heard quite often. Sometimes my grandfather would put us to work, raking leaves in the yard. I remember many a year when we would jump in those piles, burying ourselves in the yellow, red and orange leaves. (Or maybe this is actually a Christmas memory . . . the weather between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not all that different in many parts of California.)

I was often tasked with setting the table, but I never felt welcome in the kitchen. I jokingly tease my mother sometimes that my aversion to cooking was borne during those early years when I was always shooed out of the kitchen. Something about too many cooks and my being in the way. You were more likely to find me on the clean up crew. There could never be enough hands involved with that. Scraping leftovers into tin foil and plastic containers, everyone laying claim to what they might want to take with them. The hostess always hoped someone would want to take home some of the leftovers so she wouldn't be stuck with them all.

Then the real clean up would begin. I made a good dryer. The older I became, I often would take on the scrubbing as well. Yes, there was an actual dish-washing machine, but, you see, big holidays like this often require that the good china that has been collecting dust in the cabinet be used--and, of course, the good china is not "Dishwasher Safe". Those dishes, pots, pans and utensils that were dishwasher safe could never just be loaded into the dishwasher rack. No, they had to be scrubbed and free of any food remnants before being placed in there. What's the point of having a dish-washing machine if I have to wash everything by hand anyway, I often asked my mother.

Before we could eat, we had to say a prayer of thanksgiving. We would all stand and take each others hands. Some years each of us would offer up thanks, one at a time; while at other times, one person would give thanks for all of us. I always took the Thanksgiving prayer very seriously, putting my entire heart into it, always silently--my private conversation with God.

My brother and I were not big fans of the actual Thanksgiving meal. Neither of us really liked turkey (we grew out of that, thankfully) and so inevitably someone would make my brother a hot dog (he was the Hot Dog King). I have no memories of getting out of eating the "adult foods" myself though. All I remember is being envious of my little brother who always seemed to get out of eating what everyone else was eating. I am sure I could of eaten a hot dog if I wanted. But, well, I didn't especially like hot dogs. What I did love, however, were those yams smothered in marshmallows. It was like eating desert for dinner. Yum! It's still one of my favorite dishes. Although why anyone would want to ruin it by putting bacon in is beyond me. My second favorite part of the meal was the mashed potatoes. And the bread. Not exactly the healthiest choices.

Of course there was also pie. Pumpkin was always my favorite. My mom's pumpkin that is. I've yet to find anyone who makes it just the way she does. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top and I was in heaven.

Before all of that though, before we even left the house or the guests began arriving, Thanksgiving Day always would start with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I loved the floats best when I was a child. And I enjoyed making note of whether the marching bands were in step. As I got older, the Broadway dance routines would most catch my eye. Okay, so they weren't actually a part of the parade, but oh, how I loved to imagine myself as one of the singers and dancers. (Confession: I still do.)

After everything was said and done, the leftovers put away and the dishes clean, it was time to go. Goodbyes were said, hugs exchanged. We would all go our separate ways. I was often relieved it was finally over.

For the past few years, my husband and I have chosen to celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way. We avoid the rush of travelers and our house does not smell of a roasting turkey. At first it was because of our work schedules. We live several hundred miles away from both of our families. My husband often had to get back to work the day after Thanksgiving and so travel was out of the question. We've grown to appreciate our own little tradition. Sometimes we go out and see a movie. One year we joined the crowds at Disneyland (and, boy, was it ever packed!) Since discovering that Marie Callender's Restaurant stays open for the holiday, we began going there for our Thanksgiving meal. None of that dreaded cooking (you know I don't like to cook, right?) and clean up. Many people evidently have the same idea because every year the restaurant is full of people, large and small parties taking advantage of the open restaurant.

It never fails that each year people ask me what my plans are for Thanksgiving, am I cooking or are we visiting relatives? Sometimes I can detect a glimmer of pity in their face when I tell them neither, that my husband and I are spending the day by ourselves and going out for dinner. For so many, Thanksgiving is about those family get-togethers, the bad and the good, and that home cooked meal. I, on the other hand, have grown to like the quiet of the day. I prefer it, really. I like being able to spend the day with my husband, just the two of us and the animals. I still give thanks. I still reflect on the positives in my life and how lucky I am. And I am very lucky. I have so much to be thankful for.

A coworker approached me yesterday and said, "I hear you are going to Mimi's tomorrow!" Her eyes were bright and she had a big smile on her face. I actually had no idea that Mimi's was open for Thanksgiving. I wish I had; I wouldn't mind having Thanksgiving there. I hear they have their full menu available. There was an instant spark between us, one of shared understanding. As crowded as the few open restaurants are on Thanksgiving Day (and believe me, they are often crowded!), I haven't known too many people in my own circle who prefer to eat out on the holiday. Like me, she spent the day with just her husband and son, which is how she prefers it.

Anjin and I did not go to Marie Callender's this year. Instead we decided to try something a bit different and went to Claim Jumper. The food was good and our bellies are full. I even brought home leftovers. Now we are going to settle in and enjoy the rest of the evening. Maybe take a nap.

However you spent the day, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I hope you all had a wonderful and fulfilling day.

Those of you who are going to brave the Black Friday* shopping crowds, more power to you! When Anjin and I were out and about last night, we noticed people with sleeping bags and camping gear already lining up outside the local Best Buy (electronics store). Imagine spending Thanksgiving that way! For some people though, it's their tradition. And they love every moment of it. I can appreciate that.

How did you spend your Thursday? Are any of you Americans planning to brave the crowds this Black Friday*?

*For those who may not know, Black Friday is the official kick off of the Christmas shopping season. It falls on the Friday after the American Thanksgiving Day. Many stores boast huge sales and offer unbelievable deals good for just the day in order to lure in customers, sometimes opening up in the wee hours of the morning. It's a tradition for many Americans to be up before dawn, waiting in line at the stores, hoping to get the best deals.

Ten Things I am Grateful For This Year

1. My husband continues to be my rock. He is my best friend and I love him so.

2. My cats and dog bring me such joy and fill my heart with love.

3. My family and friends, including my online friends (that means you!). I have gained so much by having them (and you) in my life.

4. My job. I am lucky to be in a job I like and to be working for a manager who is not only supportive, but gets me.

5. My husband's job. In this economy, I am just grateful we are both able to continue working.

6. My freedom and those who strive and fight to protect it.

7. The roof over my head and the food on my table.

8. All the Americans who are working today, despite it being a national holiday, including the wait staff, cooks and hostesses who gave up their Thanksgivings to serve those of us who didn't want to cook for ourselves. And especially those in emergency services or on standby who are there when we need them most.

9. My love for reading and books, and a special thanks to the authors who share their stories with the rest of us.

10. Indoor plumbing.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Wendy!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thanks for sharing your great Thanksgiving memories, Wendy - and how you spend Thanksgiving now. I'm surprised more restaurants aren't open on Thanksgiving these days, really.

    I only had four people to cook for, but I don't get to do this kind of cooking all that often, so I enjoyed it - and my pumpkin pie turned out very well :-).

    And who ISN'T thankful for indoor plumbing? :-D

    Have a great weekend, Wendy - and Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I loved reading this post - I'm glad you had such a wonderful day. :)

  4. Melody - Thanks so much, Melody!

    Florinda - There were quite a few open from what I could tell on our drive to Claim Jumper tonight, which surprised me. I hadn't realized before just how many--at least in the next town over which is where Claim Jumper is. I think it's becoming more and more popular to go out for Thanksgiving.

    It sounds like you had a wonderful thanksgiving. I love home cooked meals--I just don't like cooking them myself. LOL

    I hope you have a great weekend too.

    Carrie - Thanks, Carrie. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  5. I do think that people have this expectation that Thanksgiving (and Christmas) is to be celebrated iin a very particular way and cannot understand why some people choose to do something else.

    But I always say each to their own!! You can have the best time in the way YOU want it!!

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

    On the subject of Black Friday though - thank goodness we don't do anything like that there, although we do have the Boxing Day sales.

  6. Wendy, I loved reading about your Thanksgiving traditions and the way you and your husband celebrate now. It sounds wonderful! I have a small family (husband, 2 kids) and our extended families are, like yours, far away. So I usually cook for four. Now that my girls are teens they enjoy helping me in the kitchen, and I enjoy the cooking more because of that. And they seem to enjoy the traditions we have established. Someday, though, they may be too far away to join us and then ... well, that "quiet day" sounds rather appealing!

    Enjoy the your weekend!

  7. What a nice post! Normally, we are at the beach with my parents for Thanksgiving, which is something we've done for a number of years. This year, though, my parents couldn't make it down so it was just the four of us. I cooked anyway, and got to listen to my son whine about not liking anything I made! And as for Black Friday, you couldn't pay me enough money to go out in that! Good deals be damned. I'll be cleaning the house!

  8. What a nice post. Our Thanksgivings are usually quiet these days, but I have to admit I love it when we did pack in a huge crowd. I'm glad you had a wonderful day with your husband.

  9. When I was little Thanksgiving was often celebrated by just my mother and me. Sometimes she would have a couple of friends over but mostly it was just the two of us. I longed for a big family to share the holidays with like I had seen on the Waltons. When she married our families blended so soon I had the big family dinner. As I got older I started to regret wanting a large family. Sometimes the holiday is very stressful.
    I do not think it matters if it is just the two of you or your whole family. What is important is that you are with someone you love.

  10. That is a great post! I hope your Thanksgiving Day was a good one and you have a great weekend, too!

  11. I loved your post...made me reflect on my own memories from Thanksgivings past. I like your new tradition of eating out. I think Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful and we should spend it however we want to. You've got a great list of things to be thankful for as we all do! Hope you enjoy a wonderful weekend.

  12. Sam - I definitely prefer stress free holidays and sometimes that means forgoing family obligations and doing things my way. :-)

    Thank you for the Thanksgiving wishes! I hope you have a great weekend, Sam!

    Laura - Thank you! It sounds like you had a lovely Thanksgiving too. I hope you have a good weekend too!

    Sandy - Thank you, Sandy. Thanksgiving at the beach sounds so wonderful! I'm sorry your parents weren't able to make it down this year. I bet my parents got tired of my brother and me whining about the food when we were children too. LOL I don't know how parents do it!

    I'm not braving the crowds today either. I'd rather stay at home and catch up here.

    Enjoy your weekend, Sandy!

    Kathy - Thanks, Kathy! Big family get-togethers can be fun, that's for sure. It helps when you like the people you're getting together with. :-)

    Sari - It's a case of things always looking greener on the other side of the fence until you get there. There was a time when I wished for a larger family--at least more kids. Until I was in late high school and my uncle married a woman with two teen aged children, it was always just my brother and I. All of my other cousins were back on the east coast and we only ever spent one Christmas with them when I was growing up.

    Myckyee - Thank you! I had a very pleasant Thanksgiving, thank you. :-)

    Kathleen - Thanks! It's fun to revisit the happy memories now and then. I love eating out for the holidays. Now if only restaurants would stay open on Christmas! LOL I hope you have a great weekend too.

  13. It sounds like you had a FANTASTIC Thanksgiving! Sometimes I dread the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and a nice, relaxing day at home sounds wonderful. I ended up shopping yesterday and today but got some really great deals. Plus, I think it's fun!

  14. Kristie - It was really nice. :-) I am glad to hear you got some great deals while out shopping, Kristie. I may end up at a few stores this weekend, but I haven't quite decided yet. I definitely will be reading though. Hopefully I won't be too tempted to jump on the computer all that often.

  15. What a wonderful post - I'm glad you had a great Thanksgiving. Love your list of things you're thankful for.

  16. Hi Wendy...It sounds like you and your h have a great plan. Thanks for your stories. I remember the Thanksgiving cleanup as well. Oh the days. Yes, I also am grateful for indoor plumbing.

    Happy Thanksgiving. D

  17. I love this post, Ms Dryer! LOL. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    I've always wanted to try pumpkin pie and so far, no luck... I haven't even tasted a turkey before! I would really, really love to get the chance to experience Thanksgiving the way you do.

    I love your 10 things! We really need to appreciate more of those people who work or serve on that day.

    I wish you a great week ahead! :D

  18. Ingrid - Thank you. I hope you had a wonderful day too!

    Wisteria - I still take on the role of clean up person when I spend the holidays with my parents. Old habits die hard. :-)

    Alice - Haha! The one thing I'm good at. ;-)

    I hope someday you will be able to experience a Thanksgiving meal. We just need to get you to the U.S. for a visit!

    I hope you have a great week too.

  19. Those childhood memories are so very similar to the ones I have. Thanks for sharing! And I hope that you and Anjin and the animals all enjoyed your day. :)

  20. Thanks for sharing your Thanksgivings! Mine has been similar, although I also cooked for a dozen or so at times. Because of growing kids and far away relatives, I had no one to cook for this weekend. And my options for T-Day were other people's families. So, after a bit of research on ideas for Thanksgiving alone, I decided to paint my kitchen. And now I'm thankful for the beautiful paint, the sense of accomplishment, the peace and quiet, and a daughter who came home and admired it. Heck, I have more rooms to paint!

  21. What wonderful Thanksgiving memories and traditions. I'm so glad you had a terrific Turkey Day.
    I always spend Thanksgiving with my extended family and couldn't imagine anything else. But then again we are breaking with Christmas tradition this year, althuough the thought of it is stressing me out.
    I, too, am thankful for all of my online friends, like you :)

  22. Heather - We had a very pleasant day, thank you. :-)

    Pam - I don't think my oven is big enough to hold a turkey that could feed that many people. LOL

    Painting your kitchen sounds like a unique but worthwhile way to spend your Thanksgiving. :-)

    Stacy - Thank you, Stacy. It was hard for me the first time I broke with the family tradition, but it turned out well in the end. I am sure it will for you too. :-)

  23. This was a good post. We have had a tradition for many years of eating out for Thanksgiving. My mom got tired of cooking a wonderful meal for Thanksgiving, and then turning around and doing it a few weeks later for Christmas. So she got a break and everyone loved it.

    She passed away earlier this year, but my sister and I and my Dad went to our usual place just the same. There is still plenty to be thankful for.

  24. Frances - Thank you. Cooking two huge meals so close together can be tiresome, I imagine. I like the idea of eating out for one and then in for the other.

    I am sorry for your loss. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person. I am glad you, your sister and father were able to carry on with the tradition. And I agree, there is much to be grateful for.


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