My first memory of being at the Thanksgiving table was when I was 19 months old.
Of course, I can only remember it when I wander into an old photograph, pressed between the pages of a scrapbook.
I am in a high chair, gnawing on a turkey leg. I appear to be quite content, and I’m sure that happiness can be attributed to my introduction to fine dining. Turkey was always a real treat, something we only got on holidays and special occasions.
Looking back, what meant the most was being with the people I love and who love me.
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It still does.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is the only time each year when my entire family is able to be together.
Turkey legs have followed me up and down life’s latitudes, from my grandparents’ home in Hawkinsville to every place I’ve lived -- from LaGrange to Churchland, Virginia, to Jacksonville, Florida, and to Sandy Springs, Athens and Macon.
There are now empty seats at our Thanksgiving table, where departed loved ones sat and shared stories about one-room schoolhouses and how the roar of the tractor burrowed into their eardrums like the fields they plowed.
Their chairs have been filled with the births of children, and now grandchildren.
The circle of life goes on at the table.
Our Thanksgiving menu is almost always the same. Family members know what to bring, usually without asking. My aunt will make the dressing and a cousin the sweet potatoes, both recipes handed down from my grandmother. My sister will bake a squash casserole. My brother will fry the turkeys.
There will be 31 people arriving at our house, traveling 1,491 miles from seven different cities to our front door. Obviously, we won’t all fit around the table, or even in the same room, but what matters is that we will be together.
We will visit, pull out cameras, laugh, cry, go back for seconds and make memories. There will be a football game on TV in the den and another played on the front lawn.
Ronald Reagan once said “all great change in America begins at the dinner table.” I believe that, even though I don’t always practice what I preach.
We are empty nesters now, with our oldest son living 300 miles from home and our youngest away at college. My wife and I find it convenient, and sometimes more economical, to eat out. When we do fix a meal at home, we often sit with our plates in our laps and watch television.
So I plead guilty, too. Busy lives have pushed us away from the dinner table. Sadly, Norman Rockwell doesn’t wear apron strings any more.
It wasn’t that way when I was growing up. Meals were a sacred time, a respite from the world outside the kitchen window. My family was almost always together at meal time, that big Lazy Susan spinning in the middle of the supper table.
I don’t recall eating out at restaurants, except on special occasions. There weren’t many fast-food places. The golden arches were about the only choice we had.
I’m not sure drive-thru windows had come along, either, which made it possible for kids to chew Happy Meals on the way to soccer practice. Cars were not equipped for supper clubs. Even the space-age Jetsons did not have cup holders aboard their cartoon rocket ship.
A story in the July issue of The Atlantic magazine on “The Importance of Eating Together” pointed out the majority of American families eat together less than five times a week. The average family now spends nearly twice as much on fast food as it does on groceries. Also, one in four people in the U.S. eat at least one fast-food meal every day, and the average person devours one of every five meals in the car.
We might not be able to entirely bring back those good old days that got up and left the table without asking to be excused. But we can make the effort to break bread together more often. It’s a different kind of healthy eating.
Food for thought. Happy Thanksgiving.
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