I grew up in a big family. There are seven of us Wallys, and I’m the youngest of five kids. From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, our Thanksgiving celebrations were big parties, with three or four families getting “gussied up” and spending the day together. Everything about it was big: the number of people, the quantity of food, the stacks of dishes, and the volume of the laughter. Within all the bigness, the biggest of the bigs was the sheer amount of joy on everybody’s face, from the Macy’s parade, to the meal, to the inevitable party crashers, to the end of the party cleanup. It was a very happy day.
There were four categories of people at these celebrations. 1) The Little Kids. There was one…me. 2) The Big Kids, which were all the brothers and sisters. There were about 15 of them. One by one, they all went off to college, so part of the terrific anticipation and excitement was because we’d get to have our families be complete again for a few days. 3) There were eight Parents. They made it all happen. In hindsight, the parents, and the Moms in particular, did a tremendous amount of work to make a beautiful sit-down meal for 30. It took days of prep. (Sheesh. Thanks, Moms.) 4) At the top was one grandparent, Grandma Lou.
Generally, the Big Kids would hang out together and drink beer and laugh. The Parents would hang out together and drink cocktails and laugh. So frequently, this resulted in The Little Kid and the Grandparent hanging out together drinking 7Up and laughing. She was grandmother to just a few of the celebrants, but still, everybody called her Grandma Lou. She was my great aunt. Since my grandparents were gone before I was born, Grandma Lou was as close as it got for me. She was an wonderful, special, happy woman. We named one of our daughters after Lucille.
There were too many of us to get a group photo every year. So the tradition became to take a group photo of the women, and then one with the guys and Grandma Lou. The one above is from 1974.
It seems the notion of thankfulness was in part driven by what The Parents had been through in their lives. The great depression, World War II, Vietnam, not to mention raising lots of kids along the way. I think those 20th century experiences, where tremendous loss and sacrifice popped up every couple of decades, gave them a greater appreciation for being alive, and on days like Thanksgiving, being together.
Time has, I’m sure, simplified my memories of the Big Day. But I remember that the focus wasn’t on gifts. It wasn’t about decorations. It wasn’t about things or stuff or fluff. It was about people. Togetherness. Spending time. Connecting. Hugs. Laughter. And recognizing that we’re damn lucky people who have a lot of good in our lives.
So it’s simple. Methinks our Thanksgiving job is to spread happiness.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Have a happy, happy Thanksgiving.