Thanksgiving then and now…

100_5259.jpgFor so many years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a very special one for the Andersons here in Illinois, and one which we looked forward to with great anticipation. On that day, we would welcome the arrival of my mom and my two sisters and their families—one from Ohio; one from Nebraska.

Our son and family, who live a short distance from us, and our daughter and husband from Michigan would be here as well. Then, there were the nieces and nephews who would trickle in at various times. Without a doubt, the air of excitement for our traditional Thanksgiving celebration hung all about on Wednesday as those we were thankful for began to come in.

Beginning early that day, final preparations for the “big day” would be in full swing, including my stuffing and cooking of the first of the two big twenty-pound birds on the Weber charcoal kettle. The second one would be done on Thursday morning. Wednesday’s turkey would be for the sandwiches and snacking for the next few days, while the second one would be for the big meal on Thursday.

Once turkey number one was on, I’d have to check the coals every forty minutes or so and add briquettes accordingly to keep the heat up to the appropriate level. This would go on for at least six hours, depending on the weather conditions. During that time, my son and  I would get the garage set up with the tables that would hold the many snacks and other goodies and leftovers for the next few days.

There was also the keg of beer to pick up from the store, and our son was usually in charge of taking care of that important chore. Since there were always many thirsty guests all those years, having plenty of beverages went without saying!

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Josh making sure Old #7 (in background) is “safe.”

We couldn’t tap the keg, though, until Uncle Rich arrived from Omaha with “Old #7,” his cold plate beer tapping system he’d built. Imagine our annual “ritual” of tapping the keg soon after Uncle Rich’s arrival. Let Thanksgiving begin!

So many pleasant memories were made in our garage—year after year—before and after the traditional meal in our dining room and the “kids’ table” in the room just next to it. Carolyn always outdid herself, preparing way too much food, but it was delicious all the same. And, of course, my mom’s coffee cakes and pies were standard treats that only added to the goodness of the gathering.

The next two days: Football on the TVs. Kids scooting all about. Women off on shopping missions. Nibbling on leftovers. Cold beer. Nonsense and silliness. The same stories and jokes told before somehow coming to light and being re-told again. Laughter! 100_2023.jpg

And then it’s over.

By Saturday the out-of-town visitors had to pack it up and head back home. And though Carolyn and I were always ready to resume the routine of our lives at that point, there still was a sense of melancholy, knowing that what we’d so looked forward to had come and gone in a flash.

When everyone was younger, it always seemed as though there’d be no doubt that this Thanksgiving thing  would go on and on, year after year, and there would always be a Thanksgiving gathering at our place here in Illinois.

Sadly, We haven’t had that gathering here for the past couple of years, and this year is no different. The reasons why no one comes anymore are many, but the reality is that the youngsters are grown and have their own lives— with their own children—and family traditions to attend to.

Be that as it may, Carolyn and I will spend tomorrow having dinner with very good friends back in our old town of Naperville. We’ll kid and joke and try to avoid political disagreements. It will be fun and good and warm. Once back home that evening, I’ll probably imagine just one more trip to the garage for another snack or to refill my Solo Cup, and the memory will make me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be gathered!

A Thanksgiving Come & Gone…

Sketch of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Lou...
Sketch of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Louis Blenker) during the US Civil War on Thursday November 28th 1861. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, now…Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, and family I see once or twice a year have returned to their homes in Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Our little spot here in northern Illinois was virtually bursting with life—young, old, and in between—beginning Wednesday afternoon.

All of the preparations and planning seem to have whisked right on by at light speed, with excellent results. The two twenty-pound turkeys and dressing I cooked on Wednesday and Thursday turned out perfect, along with the all of the other culinary delights that Carolyn put together for our traditional Thursday meal.

As we all were gathered together, each of us sharing wonderful conversation, many laughs and smiles, and thoughts of what all was going on in our lives, I realized just how much I have to be thankful for. And I have made it a goal to write more often about those many things and no longer take them for granted.

Carolyn and I have been hosting this “gathering” every year for longer than we can recall (at least 25 years, at last guess), and we look forward to it every year. And every year, family from near and far makes the trip to our humble abode, resulting in a few days of silliness, snacks, cold drinks, delicious meals, conversation, and college football and Blackhawks hockey on TV.

Today—Sunday—like all Sundays at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, seems empty and much too quiet. The leftovers populate the fridge, and the washer seems to be in overdrive, catching up on bath and dish towels, almost as soon as the last traveler is packed up and headed out of our driveway for their return journey to home.

Just the two of us, alone in our quiet house once more, we go about the tasks of getting things put back together. I spend a good amount of the morning getting all the card table chairs, tables, and plastic cups and plates back in the Thanksgiving box to haul to the shelf in the basement, where it will rest until next year at the same time. Then I help my son, who has come up from his home, load up his truck with the remaining things we had borrowed from him. He and my two grandsons eat some leftover pizza from last night but can’t stay long as there are things that they need to get done down at their house.

Through it all, there’s a sense of relief that the weekend was a success and that everything “worked” as we’d planned. Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling of melancholy that it’s over much too soon. Watching the Bears’ game doesn’t make it any better, either, as they squander opportunities to win, eventually losing late in overtime.

Carolyn has busied herself with handling the wash and bringing me the clean things to help fold. We even get all of the autumn decorations—outside and inside—taken down and stored away, making room for the Christmas things very soon. Eventually, Carolyn and I take some time away from our cleaning up duties and heat up what remains of the leftovers and watch Criminal Minds, which was DVR’d from last Wednesday.

Late in the afternoon, I finally come into my office, which for the past several days has been where my daughter and her husband have had their Aero bed, suitcases, and their kid’s suitcases. I hurriedly look back over things on my desk from when I was last seated in front of my MacBook and realize that I’m a bit behind in my blog posts. But I did manage to reach my goal of over 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo these past weeks, and I’m thankful for pushing hard during the first weeks of the month to get that word count up and climbing every day. This makes me smile and kind of brightens the day once again.

Now with the busy-ness of November behind me, I can get squared away for the month of December and get back to some sense of a daily writing routine. And there is still much to write. But for now, I’m simply focusing on those many things of which I’m thankful. I hope everyone else has plenty to be thankful for, as well….CortlandWriter