Thanksgiving Dinner: Lessons From The Grown-Ups’ Table

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Thanksgiving has, for me, always been synonymous with family. For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve known that my turkey-eating plans were set for the Saturday after the actual holiday when my immediate family would get together with all four of my mom’s sisters and their respective families. Hosting duties rotated but beyond the venue, it seemed like very little changed from year to year. That is, until recently.

My earliest memories of our gluttonous Thanksgiving dinner celebration involve running amok with my siblings and cousins, breathing in the glorious aroma of that big fat bird roasting in the oven, boisterous laughter and pies. Lots of pies; meat pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, candy dish pie (I’m salivating). This is the stuff that joyful childhood memories are made of.

And then there was all the fun to be had at the kids’ table. Regardless of its actual location within the house, this no-adults-allowed oasis felt miles away from authority and several steps closer to independence. I loved it. We would eat as many of our Mom-Mom’s homemade rolls as possible and still have tons of room for mashed potatoes and buttery, creamy corn. None of us kids would ask each other how school was going or remark on how big we were getting. We would just stay in whatever made-up world we had just been playing in as we scarfed down our food and left behind a giant mess.

Sadly, one by one, we grew to resent being relegated to the table we used to adore. I remember when my older sister was brought up from the minors to sit with all the grown-ups. There she was, at least a foot higher off the ground than I and surrounded by people drinking out of fancy glasses. Here I was, rolling my eyes at the youngest members of our family as they talked about imaginary people and ate with their hands.

By the time I reached college, I had been a full-fledged member of the grown-up table for a couple of years. I relished the opportunity to chat with my aunts and uncles about world problems and crazy college shenanigans. I may not have been totally aware of it then, but now I see that a shift was happening. The elders were looking to the younger generation to provide the entertainment and energy as they began drinking less and dozing off during football more. When my oldest cousins started throwing their hats in the hosting ring about 10 years ago, it became official to me. Even in this realm, where I had always been so much younger than the adults, I wasn’t a kid anymore.

I think we all lament the loss of our youth at various points over the course of a lifetime. And it’s almost always bittersweet. Our Thanksgiving celebration now more closely resembles Christmas morning. Most of the former kids’ table occupants have children of their own, so great aunts and great uncles who rarely see the next generation of their family use this occasion to deliver gifts in person. We all cram into one room and watch as tiny versions of all of us oooh and aaahh and eat the wrapping paper.

But even if nobody says it, I know we’re all thankful to be together on this day. The look and feel of Thanksgiving dinner has changed for our family but there’s certainly something to be said for the fact that we all still make the effort to be there. Becoming one of the adults, and then one of the parents, has certainly made me appreciate that. And there’s still the pies. Lots of pies.

(Photo: © Getty Images)