Changing Thanksgiving Traditions

When I was a girl, Thanksgiving dinner might occur on Thanksgiving itself or the day after—whichever day my father had off from the fire department.

The table was set for eight with an ironed tablecloth, Mom’s sterling silverware, and her good ivory china bordered with a band of light blue and a thinner band of gold. My father presided at one end of the table and my mother faced him at the opposite end in the chair closest to the kitchen—in case she needed to hop up to get something. My two grandmothers, my two older brothers, my younger sister, and I filled out the sides.

Mom masterminded the meal—getting up early to put the turkey in the oven, making the stuffing, the green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie. One of my grandmas brought cranberries and the other brought rolls. My sister and I chopped onions and celery for the stuffing, stirred gravy, and set the table. We also helped clean up. But Mom bore the weight of making this holiday a success. Now that I’ve helped prepare many family holiday meals, I understand and appreciate how much work and pressure this labor of love can be. That we shifted days barely registered with me then. What I recall were the smiling faces and good food.

As is the way of things, our family grew and we expanded the Thanksgiving table.First came my brother’s wife and their kids. Later, my great aunt and my mother’s sister, both widowed and childless, joined us. When my sister and I married and had kids, we enlarged the table again.

At that point, there were too many of us for my parent’s small dining room. A dinner for 20-22 was getting to be too much for Mom, who was now in her mid-70’s. Thanksgiving dinner moved to my sister’s bigger house. My parents contributed pre-roasted turkeys from the deli, and Mom brought several pies. My siblings and I prepared the rest of the food. My sister set two adjoining tables with her sterling silverware, ivory china rimmed in gold, crystal goblets, and a flowery centerpiece. Wine flowed freely and we were a festive and rowdy bunch.

In the last several years, the family circled around the Thanksgiving table has grown smaller. My parents and two aunts are gone now. Our small family of four doesn’t always travel to Ohio for the holiday. Sometimes my sons’ girlfriends join us at our smaller table, but now my sons each need to be a part of their girlfriend’s family gatherings, too. That’s as it should be. Holiday traditions are supposed to flex with a family’s changing circumstances.

This year, the day of our Thanksgiving celebration shifted once again, because that’s what works best for our sons. Several days ago, I set out my good white china and sterling silverware, arranged flowers, cooked and baked, and gave thanks for the smiling faces at my table.


                We at the WordSisters wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope there are plenty of smiling faces at your table.

The Unintended Consequences of Random Acts of Kindness

My 91-year-old Mom has an old green bomber jacket she wears for quick trips to the store.  The color is scuffed off of the elbows, and the knit cuffs and waist are pilled. The jacket isn’t good enough to wear to church, but it’s too good to throw away. And she likes it, or at least she did until the other day.

She was checking out at the grocery store and the clerk had bagged two small sacks, when Mom realized she didn’t have much cash with her. Even though Mom had several credit cards in her wallet, she didn’t think to use one of them—to Mom, grocery shopping is a cash operation. Flustered, she told the clerk to put back one of the bags. She didn’t have the money for both.

As she was walking out, the woman who’d been standing behind Mom in the checkout line caught up with her and handed Mom the second bag of groceries. This generous middle-aged stranger had paid for them. Mom managed to thank the woman, but she was mortified.

Mom’s convinced that the well-intentioned stranger saw an old woman wearing a ratty coat and concluded that Mom couldn’t afford to buy groceries. Mom has a comfortable income, so the idea that she might seem in need of charity was profoundly embarrassing to her. Mom gives generously to charities—she’s accustomed to being the giver. She’s not supposed to be the receiver. She’s proud of being in good shape financially.

My sister and I suggested other possibilities: Maybe the stranger was just being nice—everyone’s had the experience of coming up short at the checkout. Maybe the stranger was just trying to spare Mom the hassle of a return trip to the store.  Maybe Mom reminded the woman of her own mother.

Mom was unmoved by our explanations. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s poor and feeling sorry for her. She’s shopping for a new winter coat she can wear to the store.

* * *

I had a similar experience when I was shopping at the farmer’s market. I was debating whether or not to buy my collie a smoked dog bone. I’d picked up and put back several bones while the vendor was selling me on the merits of his smoking process. I concluded that the bones might be too splintery for my dog and decided not to buy any.

I felt a little bad about wasting the vendor’s time, so I stupidly said I didn’t have that much money with me, and the dog didn’t really need the bone. I wanted to move on and figured the vendor couldn’t argue with that explanation. But another shopper overheard the conversation and insisted on buying the $2 bone for me. I tried to refuse, but she said she wanted to treat my dog. So I let her give me the bone. I didn’t want to squelch her generous impulse. Better to be gracious. I’d get over my embarrassment.

Those random acts of kindness—moments of pure generosity—had surprising consequences. Instead of being pleased and grateful, Mom and I felt stupid. Embarrassed to be seen as needy. Guilty that we’d contributed to the perception. We’d expected to be the givers, not the receivers.

However, when I’ve truly needed help—say when a stranger helps me jump a dead battery—I am grateful and delighted that the world has such good-hearted people in it.

I still like the idea of random acts of kindness and want to be more open and accepting of what the world sends my way.

cosmic smooch

cosmic smooch