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Family caught between the winter holidays

Sunday, November 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:19 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

My house looks as if it’s been hit by a bomb. This is the “tween” time of the year, with Halloween just passed, Thanksgiving lurking around the corner and Christmas waiting in the wings. I still have a few stray witches to put away, and a Santa I just bought is lounging in a corner of my dining room. I have early Christmas presents piled on my treadmill, which makes using the thing impossible. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking by it.)

I’ve decided to do away with my conviction to not decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. This year, our two daughters and their families will be here for turkey day (something that hasn’t happened for at least a decade), and we will celebrate Christmas with them the next day.

When we were first married, our family went to my mother’s for the big day. I think that happened only once because with our blended family of seven children, the feast darn near killed her. She nudged me gently toward having the meal at my house. So for at least 29 years, I have had the Thanksgiving meal at home. I always took it for granted that my brood would be present for this annual tradition — then puberty happened. As the kids entered their teenage years, the boyfriend/girlfriend of the moment would invite one of my kids over to celebrate with THEIR families. I was adamant. Thanksgiving is for families, and no one was allowed to celebrate away from home.

Then the kids took permanent partners and things got a little dicey. I finally realized the spouses had parents, too. I held my ground until the in-laws started getting testy and one of my weaker kids succumbed to the pressure. The others have figured out a formula with their in-laws. Some families celebrate the Saturday before or after the real day. Others have multiple feasts on the same day. Mine is always last since I serve at 5 p.m. These families look a little bloated but dutifully sit and munch on a carrot or a tablespoon of dressing.

The tradition really started to fall apart when three of our boys joined the military. Apparently, the fighting forces don’t care that the boys like the mashed potatoes just so. There was one miserable Thanksgiving when three of our seven were missing.

Then one year my husband and I decided to turn the tables. We booked a flight to New York, leaving Wednesday before the big day and returning on Sunday. We had a glorious time. We went to see the Rockettes, got to see part of the Macy’s parade and ate Thanksgiving dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. I had a fleeting pang of guilt as I stuffed oyster dressing into my mouth, but it passed as I got up to pick dessert from the chocolate buffet.

But when we arrived home and saw the faces of our children, the guilt returned.

“How was your holiday?” I asked with forced cheeriness.

One son said his wife had never fixed a turkey before. The bird turned out black on the outside and pink and cold in the middle.

Another said that although they had a nice meal, it wasn’t the same because we weren’t there. They all looked so forlorn that I promised that we would never leave town during the holiday again.

Since then, other than the missing two children, my guests have been increasing to the point where I had to add more tables. I have invited our extended families who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving. We have even had a few guests who have never experienced the holiday, let alone speak English. This year, my guests will have to deal with fall in the dining room and Christmas in most of the others.

I was really getting excited now that the missing two were coming for the BIG day. That would mean all our children and our 14 grandchildren would be together for the first time in ages. Then I got a call from our oldest. She wanted to let me know that they were going skiing over Thanksgiving.

Sigh.

Maybe it won’t snow in Colorado until after turkey day. But with or without the seventh child present, my home is blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have a comment, please e-mail me at jdh@socket.net


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