It seems summer just ended and the holidays are already upon us. Every year as soon as Halloween arrives, time speeds up and Thanksgiving takes us by surprise. Some say Thanksgiving is a lot of work for one meal, others enjoy the festivities and go out of their way to make the day extra special.
I’m looking forward to Thursday’s Thanksgiving gathering. Our weekly family dinners have become sporadic due to conflicting work schedules, so any time we spend together is precious to me. My oldest son is a news photographer who has spent the better part of this year traveling with reporters from story to story across the country. I worry about him equally if he’s covering presidential inaugurations or mass shootings. I would rather see him at the dinner table than watch his reflection in a reporter’s face during a live-shot of the next big tragedy. He thrives living in the center of the storm. I remember when he first began his news photography career he asked me if I thought CNN would send him to cover the war in Afghanistan if he volunteered to go on assignment.
My answer was “please don’t ask” because they might take him up on his offer. Local news stories are dangerous enough. This year my son is hosting Thanksgiving dinner at his new home. So begins a new tradition during our rapidly changing family landscape. My wife is heartbroken she won’t have to cook for sixteen people.
We will have a vacant seat at the dinner table this year. My younger son is currently living and working in Japan. His absence will be felt by everyone. He told me during our last phone call that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, which made me miss him even more. Memories of Thanksgivings past from his college years are some of the happiest family moments we’ve had in Stoneham. One year he brought a handful of students home for the holiday who had nowhere to go. The dinner table was more like a United Nations meeting as we learned about customs from Argentina to Dubai. The next year he brought three of his closest friends who were very appreciative to be welcomed into our home for a traditional home-cooked turkey dinner. Another year our guests were two Japanese students who barely spoke English. I wowed them with my knowledge of Japanese manga art. This year, in Tokyo, my son will be going to a restaurant that serves an American Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings. He will be accompanied by a group of musicians from the United States who are in Japan for the holiday. I’m sure he’ll miss his mother’s magic meal, but this sounds like a good alternative. We’ll miss his dry humor during dessert. I’m sure his microphone-dropping zingers will surface no matter what group of people he breaks bread with. I’ll survive on memories of his bright smile lighting up the room and hope for a video call so I can see his face on screen.
There won’t be an empty seat at the dinner table this year. The newest addition to our family, my grandson, is old enough to sit with us at the table this year to fill the void with a bright smile of his own. The joy he and his sister radiate will dispel any holiday melancholy that looms on the emotional horizon. Experiencing the holidays through the eyes of a child never gets old, even if we do.
Time changes everything. Families change, situations change, people change. I think back to some of my earliest Thanksgiving memories at my grandmother’s house; entire families of uncles, aunts and cousins crowded into her small dining room. The heavy oversized wooden table and chairs would be at home in a giant’s castle. The meal shared the same proportions, with endless loaves of homemade bread and mile-high lemon meringue pie. I can’t go back to those days, but I can still taste the memories.
It’s not healthy to live in the past and pine for days gone by. This year I’m going to be present in the moment and enjoy what is right and front of me here and now. As Carly Simon once said in a song, “These are the good old days”. It’s time to make some new Thanksgiving memories.