Turkey, Laughter and Love

I am generally not a "holiday person," which is kind of frowned upon for a mom. I don't like pictures with Santa. The first couple of years we were parents, we didn't even put up a tree. (Everywhere else we went had one. Why did I need one in my house?) I do not and never will own a holiday sweater.

But I love Thanksgiving. Since I was a kid Thanksgiving has been a magical day at my grandparents' place. They live in the country, way out in the country. The drive to the house includes going down what resembles an ill-kept logging road. My husband always describes it this way:

"So you turn off the pavement onto gravel. You go down the gravel until it turns into rocks. You go down the rocks until you are absolutely convinced you have gone down the wrong road and will never see civilization again. Then you turn left and you're there. And don't worry, your car can usually make it across most of the creeks."

My grandparents' house is a log cabin (built back when people actually needed log cabins) in a valley between wooded hills with a rock-filled creek running down the center. There's the old well, an old-fashioned metal swing set, several enormous old trees (one complete with a hammock), and a huge field for running and playing.

There are also more people than most are used to seeing outside a wedding or high school graduation. My family is big. Really big. My grandparents had 11 children, so I have 20 aunts and uncles and 30 first cousins, and together my cousins and I have nearly 60 children of our own. When all the spouses are included, we number nearly 130 people... and we continue to grow. Not that everyone can make it. There are usually only about 80 to 100 of us in attendance any given year.

It can be a little overwhelming for the newbies. My husband and I have been married over a dozen years now, and each Thanksgiving he always asks at least once, "Who does that person belong to?" The noise can be astounding: children run around everywhere, babies are passed person to person, and a single room can have more than 20 conversations taking place at the same time.

The kitchen is ill-organized bedlam. Instead of leaving the task of feeding all these people to one person, everyone is assigned a dish to bring, which means a lot of different people have a lot of different things to do before we can eat. Four different families bring a turkey. Last year one of my uncles raised a turkey specifically for the day. (His wife quickly named it after another one of my aunts.)

Years ago my father made a snide comment about how much he hated instant potatoes, and since then real mashed potatoes have been his job. One of my great joys every year is watching my dad, brother and husband peel 20 pounds of potatoes outside in the cold, because there is just not room for such a task in the kitchen. (I have no idea why this is a man-only tradition, but I am all for it.)

When it comes time to eat, instead of a traditional prayer, we sing: a blessing to the house and everyone in it. Trying to find a place for everyone to eat is always a challenge, but we manage. And the desserts could have a blog all their own.

What makes this a truly amazing day is the family my grandparents created. They believed in love and education, art and music, family and God. But unlike some, they didn't think "family" only consisted of those fortunate enough to be born into it, and God's love extended to all people. Their love was not bound by race or creed.

They taught those lessons to their children and stood by them, as well. When one of their sons came out to them (long before my time), their love for him never changed. His sexuality has never been a secret, and he and his partner of more than 20 years are just another two of my uncles. Our family began with Western European and British ancestry and now includes that of Brazil, Mexico, Serbia, the Philippines, Africa, Native American tribes and others.

Although my grandfather passed away several years ago, my grandmother still stands as the matriarch of our family, upholding the values she holds dear.

For me the day is spent catching up with all the relatives I haven't seen in a while, meeting my cousins' new boyfriends and girlfriends, watching my sons play games with 20 other kids in the field (with no discernible teams or rules), and laughing... a lot.

My family isn't perfect. We have problems, sometimes big ones. We have arguments, sometimes big ones. But this day most of those are set aside as we enjoy simply being together. We are thankful we made it to another year and remember those who are no longer with us. I feel so privileged to have this place of peace, this place to call home. Part of that peace comes from knowing that whomever my sons grow up to be and whomever they love will have a home here, too.

So yeah, I am total sap when it comes to Thanksgiving... but don't ask me about Christmas. I am such a Grinch.