Making Thanksgiving Memories
For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. No gifts are required; everyone gets to eat in the dining room; feasting without remorse is allowed; and dessert consists of Aunt Minnie's bread pudding and just hanging out with family and friends. It's a day to count blessings as well as touchdowns. A day when the meal, like Thanksgiving traditions, are seasoned with memories as well as spices.
But observing family traditions at Thanksgiving is more than cooking sweet potato casserole out of habit; traditions are part of life's fabric. Whether a family celebrates with relatives or serves meals at the local soup kitchen, folks just seem to yearn for the familiar at holiday time. And the younger generations often find themselves striving to perpetuate how mama cooked the turkey or granddaddy told after-dinner stories in the den.
Everyone sharing a meal at the same table is a tradition one husband and father treasures, but enjoys infrequently.
"We usually eat at different times or in front of the TV," he said. "That limits our opportunities to find out what's going on in each other's lives."
Preferring to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, this father said his family is typical of Americans who are too busy to gather at the family table--except maybe on Thanksgiving.
Perhaps that's why families cling to tradition during the holiday season. But one woman says some of her most vivid memories took root when circumstances forced her family to change their holiday routine.
Hanna Berger of Selma recalls those last Thanksgiving meals that were tweaked to meet her aging mother's needs.
"Most foods that she could still chew had lost their appeal to her; she just didn't enjoy them," Hanna said. "But she liked kosher beef knackwurst or franks, potato salad and cooked sauerkraut--so that's what we had when she came to eat. We had that combination for several Thanksgivings, if I remember correctly. And since she's been gone, although I haven't actually had knackwurst, sauerkraut and potato salad, I've thought about it every year."
This year will be the beginning of new traditions in the Candelaria family of Montgomery. Diana and husband Mike welcomed baby Marley Kaitlyn into their lives, intensifying their desire for family things.
"I've actually been thinking about the holidays and what we want to do as a family," Diana announced in a somewhat surprised tone, "and I am going to make a turkey this year."
Undaunted by her lack of turkey cooking experience, Diana will call older family members for assistance with preparing the holiday bird. "I know not to leave that thing inside--that's bad," she laughed. "But, you know, I have my own baby now, and I think I should have my own turkey."
While Diana will be cooking for her growing family this year, others will spend their Thanksgiving mornings serving the needy. Keith Overholt, director of development at the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville, said each year, men, women and children volunteer to feed the homeless at Thanksgiving.
The volunteers at the mission are a diverse group, and come for a myriad of reasons, says Overholt. Of the more than 100 people who serve the holiday meal, there are about 15 families that bring their children to work alongside them and see what Thanksgiving is about.
"Some parents tell me that they want to observe Thanksgiving in a special way by illustrating the idea of helping people for their children," Overholt said. "Older folks are more traditionally involved with volunteerism, but we have volunteers of all age groups and economic situations.
The mission will serve about 600 meals Thanksgiving Day, twice its daily count. They strive to make the day special by serving their guests at tables instead of in a cafeteria line, so volunteers may interact with guests.
Whether it's dishing up meals at a soup kitchen, preparing a food basket, or donating canned goods to the local school's drive for the needy, feeding the hungry is one of the best traditions to start, Overholt said.
Cornelius Griffin of Pike County agrees with Overholt. He learned the importance of helping others at his mother's knee. "Give to others," she told him.
Today, she is proud of her son, not just because he's a famous football player, but also because he takes time each Thanksgiving to share his good fortune with others.
A defensive linebacker for the New York Giants, Cornelius reaches out to 300-400 people each year at the Brundidge Station, a nutrition center where he funds Thanksgiving dinner cooked by volunteers and arranged by his mother.
Martha Griffin says her son does it because he wants to do something for the senior citizens, and his work makes it possible.
"He loves people, particularly the elderly, but young people, too," she said. The Brundidge community gets involved, some cooking, some serving, some donating, and some just coming to visit. This year, the Griffins expect about 400 people. And even though the official host doesn't get to attend the dinner (football season, you know), "Cornelius is with us in spirit," his mother said.
The spirit of Thanksgiving also can be displayed in less traditional demonstrations of caring, as noted by Kathy Baggett of Gardendale, whose family meets at her aunt's house for dinner.
"As soon as the dishes and food were cleared away, another aunt, who was a nurse, would pull out a brown paper bag that contained hypodermic needles and flu vaccine. As a child, it was difficult to enjoy our Thanksgiving feast because we knew before our food even had time to digest, we would be jabbed in our arms with a hypo! Just the sight of the brown paper bag would cause fear and trembling, and we would all scatter," she said.
Kathy's family still meets for Thanksgiving, but the aunt no longer gives them the needle. Now, Kathy is the one who sends her relatives scrambling when she pulls out her camera for family photographs.
"Everyone groans and complains-- grumbling they would rather get a flu shot," she said.