#38: What NOT to Change

I’ve been blogging for over a year now about being the change you wish to see.  But today I’m writing about something the I hope never changes.

When I was a little girl, the whole family gathered at my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving.  And I do mean the WHOLE family:  Grandma, Grandpap, their 4 children, 3-children-in-law, 7 grandchildren, Grandma’s sister and brother-in-law and their 3 daughters (until all 3 of them entered the convent), and often a random fellow Teaching Assistant that Uncle Fred brought home from Duquesne University.  As many as 22 people in one 1920s foursquare bungalow. 

The aromas of cooling pumpkin, apple, chess and mincemeat pies mixed with the singed-wool smell of the electric heater in the butler’s pantry.  The kitchen was a sweaty hive of whirring mixer and chattering women.  Steam radiators burped and clanged and clouded the windows.  Bored cousins slid down the stairs on our butts while the dads smoked in the living room in front of a football game on a black-and-white TV. 

Then, finally, the meal was ready: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, whole and jellied cranberry sauce, crescent rolls, little dishes of pickles and olives.  And all that pie!  Sometimes Uncle Fred went all bohemian on us and bought a couple bottles of wine for the grownups.  The adults crammed elbow-to elbow around the dining room table.  The children sat at card tables in the living room, where our less-than-perfect manners could be ignored. 

After dinner, the moms continued their chatter in the kitchen while they washed dishes (1960s! No dishwasher!).  The dads smoked some more in the living room.  The kids alternated between annoying our mothers in the kitchen and sliding down the steps on our butts some more.

It was pure joy.

As I created my own Thanksgiving dinner this year, I couldn’t help but remember those 1960s Thanksgivings at 1124 Wayne Avenue in McKees Rocks.  We were expecting 16 for dinner, and our house is even smaller than my grandparents’ was.  Pumpkin pies were chilling in the fridge, the carving knife buzzed, the microwave beeped that the mashed potatoes were finished reheating.   Al was busy setting up the folding table in the living room, while Ben ran back and forth with a pitcher filling water glasses, and Chuck and Dan fetched beers from the back deck.

It was perfect chaos, just like my grandmother’s house, and in the midst of that whirlwind I experienced a moment of deep peace and joy.  I felt exactly as my grandmother must have felt, surrounded by the people she loved most in the world, capable of bringing them together and abundantly feeding them.  And I felt proud to have been carrying on her tradition for the past 32 years. 

In these dark times, when Americans are so divided and it seems that everything that we thought we could count on is crumbling, family traditions are one of the things that unite and sustain us.  Women are most often the keepers of those traditions, and the providers of the feasts.  This doesn’t feel like a burden to me at all, but instead a sacred charge that it is my privilege to fulfill. 

Some things should never change.

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