Let us give thanks for Thanksgiving
By Cynthia MacGregor / November, December 2012

Many of us have particularly warm memories of Thanksgiving dinner celebrations, either in our family of origin, the family we formed through marriage (or other partnership), or in some other circumstances. For many of us, it's the holiday for which we most give thanks.

The Thanksgivings of my childhood were not that special. My grandparents joined us for dinner, as they often did on other nights, although my mother roasted a turkey instead of a chicken, and made the traditional sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping, in lieu of some kind of white potatoes. Otherwise, Thanksgivings were not that different from other nights.

But, I remember the Thanksgiving I was 19. I was out on my own and determined to cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner for my boyfriend and myself. I got instructions from my mother on how to roast a turkey, but still was nervous, fretting over whether the bird would come out okay. My boyfriend, who had been very sanguine about the whole process, said, "How difficult can it be? It's just like roasting a large chicken."

As he walked away from the oven, I wailed, "But I've never roasted a chicken in my life!"

That's when he started to get nervous! (I am thankful that the bird came out fine.)

Fast-forward to the late 1970s. I was living a stone's throw from Central Park West, part of the Macy's parade route. I was divorced, had a daughter, and a boyfriend, whose oldest son was living with him. I didn't want to miss the parade, but also insisted on cooking dinner for the four of us.

I kept running down to the corner to watch as the bands and floats passed by. Back and forth I ran, from the corner to the apartment, and back again. When something crucial was on the stove and I couldn't afford to run to the corner, I hung perilously far out my front-facing, second-story window, straining to see the parade.

Enough of my story; let's hear from others with Thanksgiving memories.

George Eugene Belcher, 73, in Palm Beach Gardens:

Mary Moriarty Belcher, my mother, celebrated her 97th birthday in February, 1997. In March, my wife, Carole, and I loaded her prized possessions into the bays of a large, rented motor home, and my mom left New England for the very first time in her life.

Thanksgiving, 1997, will always be one of my fondest memories. It was the first holiday our small family spent together since our grandchildren were born. Daughter Beth and husband Matt moved with us to south Florida in 1990. They lived in Juno Beach at the time, with sons Sean and Brian. Mary had never met her great-grandchildren. Daughter Tracy and her partner, Rick, flew here from Massachusetts for that special Thanksgiving. The photos of our tiny family together are dear.

Mary lived in our home with us for two Christmases and another Thanksgiving. We celebrated Thanksgiving, 1999, with one fewer place set at the table. There were no tears. There was no sorrow. We gave thanks for all of our blessings and told stories of the special times we shared with Mom, Gram, and Great-Gram. She brought joy to our lives and left us with the afterglow of her smile.

Nonnie Turner, 58, in West Palm Beach:

Since I was a child, all our turkeys have been named Gertrude. I loved the smell of the bird cooking.

One year, my uncle was given a live turkey for Thanksgiving. He didn't have the heart to kill it.

My aunt Rose would always make chopped liver for every holiday. She made it the best. Those were the days with the good plates, silverware, and crystal.

Now, having no family, I either go to a friend's home or my significant other's family.

Shirl Solomon, in her 70s, in Palm Springs:

I always looked forward to spending any day with my friends in Palm Beach, Jona and Anny Lerman. As they are Holocaust survivors, Thanksgiving was particularly meaningful to them and their guests, among whom I was grateful to be included.

Jona Lerman recently celebrated his 102nd birthday, but I particularly remember the holiday dinner his wife prepared when he was "only" 100. He had eaten as much turkey, sweet potatoes, and falafel as anyone at the table and was not much into conversation -- I suspect because he couldn't remember anyone's name. When he asked for second helpings, his wife asked what he would like, and he replied, "Whatever you gave me before, I'll have it again."

After dinner, Jona rose, leaned on his cane, and cleared the table. When everyone retired into the living room area to chat, Jona proceeded to the small table where a chessboard was laid out and the chess pieces set properly on their squares. He beckoned for me to join him, and the other guests smiled agreeably.

The game lasted a half hour. Suddenly, Jona placed his bishop in a square that faced my unobstructed king and called out "Checkmate!"

The guests stopped talking among themselves, and many a mouth dropped open. I knew they were thinking that I had let him win. I was angry with myself. I had gotten careless. This old man who couldn't remember names or what he had eaten had memorized every move on the board and beaten me fair and square.

I am no longer complacent when we play chess -- and he still beats me.

David Bakke, 45, in Atlanta, Georgia:

My family is originally from the Midwest, but relocated to the Miami-Dade area many years ago. It was quite a transition, and it took time to get used to what a south Florida Thanksgiving was all about. However, we quickly forgot about the cold weather, snow, and everything else associated with Midwest Thanksgivings.

I no longer live in south Florida, but my family does, and I travel home for Thanksgiving each year.

When we first moved there, our celebration remained fairly traditional. Most of the morning was spent in the kitchen cooking and preparing the meal, while friends, family, and relatives trickled in. We had a big meal late in the afternoon, and spent the evening relaxing and catching up on old times.

Over the years, we decided to incorporate the advantages offered by south Florida into our celebration. We try to get most of the cooking done the day before, as we have a tradition of watching the sunrise on the beach on Thanksgiving morning. We then have a late morning flag football game, usually in our shorts and t-shirts -- quite a departure from playing Thanksgiving football bundled up in the Midwest.

Because of the geographic location, celebrating Thanksgiving at my parents' home in Florida is quite popular, and we always have a full house. All members of my immediate family always attend, and we usually have several out-of-town guests, as well. This makes it quite an exciting time for me, since this is the only time of year I get to see many of these people.

We recently scaled back the cooking for our big meal, so there is less work involved, and the menu is healthier. We balance the food between the traditional dishes, like turkey and stuffing, and healthy alternatives, such as garden and fruit salads, with fresh-picked citrus from some backyard fruit trees. And since our group has become so large over the years -- we usually have 25 or more people in attendance -- many guests bring their own dishes to ease the strain of cooking for so many people.

Our Thanksgiving celebration lasts long into the night, because it's a once-per-year opportunity for many of my relatives to see each another.

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