Early this morning, Ren crawled in bed with me, not something he does every night...anymore. I looked at the clock and thought of early Thanksgiving mornings a few decades ago years ago when my mother was already out of bed to get the turkey in the oven. By the time the rest of the family woke a couple hours later, the house would be filled with the aroma of roasting turkey. And just a few more hours after that, around the formal dining table set with my mother’s finest china and silver, we would all take turns stating what we were most thankful for. Then we would dive into a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We filled out plates with turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, rolls, and cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Truth be told, I only ate the yams for the toasted and gooey marshmallows baked on top, and I never, ever liked the cranberry sauce. I didn’t understand it. Canned and jellied cranberries. It wasn’t until years later when I made cranberry sauce from scratch in my own kitchen that I understood its allure. [People, it is much better homemade.]
Aside from the feast around our own family’s table, we had few other traditions that rarely included large gatherings of family and friends. It wasn’t until after B and I were married that I began to experience that on Thanksgiving. And it wasn’t until years later that we began to forge our own traditions.
Everything changed for us in 2004 when, on Thanksgiving Day, Ashlyn Diane Groshong came home from the hospital. She was seven days old and perfect, and we had no idea what to do with this tiny baby. We asked ourselves why the hospital would think that we were qualified to take her anywhere, let alone to our house. We didn’t have around-the-clock nursing care or the machines that tracked her vitals. We knew nothing about babies, save what I read in a book, and looking back, I can authoritatively state that those books did not prepare me for what was to come. Somehow we made it through that first Thanksgiving Day with Ash and indulged in a feast of cold sandwiches and potato chips and little sleep.
Like that day, our new Thanksgiving traditions still do not include turkey or stuffing or a traditional feast but rather a celebration of our little family being together—dearly missing our parents and brothers and sisters and cousins. Sometimes it’s a day spent in pajamas watching football and Christmas movies and playing games, sometimes a day snowed in at home, sometimes a day spent at church, sometimes a day spent with friends, sometimes eating grilled pizza or chocolate salad. For us, it’s rarely about the feast of food—our kids have never known a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. They are learning that our traditions are about living a life of gratitude. They are learning that the best things in life are not those measured in money but rather in love and joy and laughter, all the gifts that come from heaven. For that, for Ashlyn, for Ren, and for our family, that is Thanksgiving.