Every family has their Thanksgiving traditions.
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving involved a trip to my Grandmother’s house where aunts, uncles, cousins, and an occasional guest or three would have one of the best meals of the year. I come from a long line of great cooks, and with everyone contributing their best it was hard to wait for the blessing to be said and work through the hovering crowd to stack a plate high.
It wasn’t like anyone was going to go hungry. There was always plenty for seconds, thirds, and still have leftovers in abundance.
There’s one thing about Southern family meals like this that always has always seemed to remain a constant over the decades. We never seem to eat at the appointed time. Home cooking takes longer than it would seem, and trying to crank out multiple dishes on a single stove while greeting and hugging friends and family as they arrive sometimes slows things down.
It’s taken a long time, but I’ve generally programmed “dinner is at 1 p.m.” to an expectation of eating about 1:45. It’s not like I’ve ever had to worry about starvation.
But in those early years, before I accepted the fact that I may as well learn the virtues of patience and realistic expectations because things are going to happen when they happen, there was always a speed bump on my way to a 4,000-calorie meal: The ritual of giving thanks.
After grandma and her assemblage of cooks & helpers would declare it was time to eat, we would all assemble in her living room and each person gathered would have to state what they were thankful for. Some of us understood the need for efficiency and terseness in times like these, with turkey and trimmings hot and on the table.
Others, usually the older and more sentimental in the family, would sometimes go on tangents that seemed to last for years. With as many as 30-40 people present, it often seemed like grandma should have just wrapped the turkey and put it under the tree to be opened on Christmas. It sure seemed like it might take that long to get to it.
Growing up, I loved everything about Thanksgiving except the part of giving thanks. (Well, mostly. We’ll leave off the story about a year UGA was playing Tech on Thanksgiving Day and I was instructed by an aunt to cut the TV off when Georgia was completing a scoring drive.)
It’s a lesson that age and becoming one that values nostalgia has taught me over time, in many ways. In too much of life, our focus is on our immediate needs and gratification at the expense of understanding what is really going on around us.
Life is a collection of experiences, and the knowledge we gain from those – good and bad – leads to both wisdom and perspective. Part of that perspective is an appreciation of so many things that were taken for granted as a child, teenager, and even as a younger adult.
It’s easy to understand this as an older adult, as so many of the things we were thankful for are people that are no longer with us. Missing something, and especially someone, makes us truly understand what we had.
The younger ones gathered are still on the front end of their experience gathering. We need to understand with their impatience and preference of staring at phone screens that we were once in their shoes, just waiting for the adults to quit talking so we could eat and get back to what we wanted to be doing. They’re likely not ungrateful, they just don’t yet fully appreciate the ritual of articulating appreciation.
I’ve learned in this life that I have so much to be thankful for, and that I’m actually quite fortunate for what I have. I know many others that haven’t had the family, friends, or frankly, the love that I’ve been surrounded with throughout my life.
The meal is just a symbol of that. I remain truly thankful that for the things that matter, I’ve always been able to go back for seconds or thirds, with leftovers in abundance.
Charlie Harper, a Fayette County native, is the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com and the executive director of PolicyBEST, an Atlanta-based pro-business advocacy group.