Thanksgiving

Turkey

It’s eight o’clock in the morning, and the house is all but silent. Keith is still asleep in bed. He’ll still be sleeping an hour from now, I’m sure. The oven clicks every now and then, trying to stay hot enough to work its science on the batch of cranapple baked oatmeal I’ve just put in. The clacking and clanking as I put away dishes must be loud to someone sitting quietly in another room, but there’s no one, and I hardly notice the noise.

It’s Thanksgiving morning, and when I look at the clock, I can’t help but think about the sounds and smells of a childhood that doesn’t seem so terribly distant, although by the calendar it’s long gone. By the time I’d wake up in the morning, the kitchen and living room would already be alive — although mom was the only one awake. She’d have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tuned in, and she’d take a break every now and then from her dinner preparations to enjoy a marching band or dance performance, to see her favorite balloon characters.

The sweet, yeasty scent of toasted bread was prevalent, as she diligently cubed an entire stack of toast to make the stuffing. Dad putting down his cup of coffee to help lift the turkey into the oven. The scraping of her knife as she peeled potatoes for boiling and mashing. All of us joking about eating the pies for lunch. And then, after hours and hours and hours, it was ready: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie — that’s the Thanksgiving dinner I know. Simple. Unfussy. Homely, even.

Which was fitting for us. Except for a few occasions, it was always just the four of us on Thanksgiving — and every other holiday of the year. With our family so spread out across the country, and my dad in the Navy, it wasn’t usually possible for us to travel to anyone else, nor for anyone to travel to us. Without aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents to play with, my brother and I would keep ourselves occupied, maybe with quiet play in our rooms, or a craft activity that mom encouraged, watching the parade in the living room with a bowl of cereal, and helping in the kitchen when we could.

So when I got married and we were expected to go to other people’s houses — per the in-laws’ family traditions — it was a foreign and frustrating thing. For almost all of our Thanksgivings together, I’ve stood in a nearly silent house on Thanksgiving morning: the kitchen cold and dark, the TV switched off, nothing to do or make or play. Worrying about what time to leave, what to wear, will we remember everything we’re supposed to bring? And Thanksgiving never really feels like Thanksgiving.

But with children entering the picture, it seems like the perfect …leverage to start making new traditions. Unless we move halfway across the globe, we’ll never have the kind of Thanksgiving that’s most familiar and normal to me. But I can get used to something different. I can get used to children stumbling out of their bedrooms in the morning to the smell of cranapple baked oatmeal baking in the oven. I can be content with their questions and curious looks and giggles, knowing that they’re looking forward to some craft project or game to play or songs to sing (and helping to taste-test this year’s assigned dish) before it’s time to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for dinner.

Or whatever. I know that traditions are most often shaped by necessity and circumstance rather than sheer will. But after seven years of “What are we doing for Thanksgiving?” I think it will be nice to settle into something routine and familiar, something that — one day, when it all changes — this child will reminisce about the old familiar sights and sounds and smells, and wish that Thanksgiving could just be the one he or she had come to know as normal.