“How do you know when you’ve had a good Thanksgiving?” my middle son, who had driven home from south Texas for the holiday, asked many years ago.
“Having all the family together,” I answered instantly. I didn’t even have to think about it.
Then I thought about it some more. The dinner, of course, is important. Everyone agreed that year’s dinner was the best ever. There were complaints that there wasn’t enough room on our plates to try everything.
“Well, what should we not fix next year?” I asked.
“We don’t need all these mashed potatoes,” said the son who had mashed them.
“Yes, we do!” My daughter-in-law and I said emphatically at the same time. “What would you put your gravy on?”
“On the turkey and dressing,” he argued, but we protested vehemently. There would be mashed potatoes next year.
I had added a new dish, a sauteed squash and pear combination. “We don’t really need a vegetable,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll make that next year.”
“I love the squash,” my husband said. “Don’t leave it out.”
“Do we really need all these salads?” someone asked. “There’s always so much left over.”
“Of course, we do,” someone else jumped in. “We want to have lots of leftovers.” I didn’t dare suggest not having the scalloped oysters, as I am the only one who doesn’t like them.
“One of the best parts of the dinner,” I continued my conversation with my son, “is cooking it.”
The best Thanksgivings, I think, are when everyone gets there early enough to make something, to help set the table. I make a list of the dishes that have to be made and everyone signs up to make one. My husband always made the oysters, and my youngest son has taken that over.
We all mill around in the kitchen, bumping into and distracting each other, talking, interrupting, laughing, and drinking wine.
“Remember the year I decided we should each tell what we were thankful for before we could start eating?” I asked my son.
By the time we went around the table, the turkey and dressing were cold, so we didn’t do that again. The next year, we tried toasts by everyone who felt inspired. The food got cold again.
The next year, we had one prayer of Thanksgiving by the elder member – and he was urged to make it brief. “No philosophy,” I whispered, as I bowed my head.
“And remember when Jake was barely four and we asked him to give the prayer. ‘Thank you for my parents and grandparents and uncles and puppies. Amen,’ he said.”
“Amen,” we all echoed. “That was a good prayer,” his grandfather told him.
We sat companionably for a while.
“Maybe it’s the laughter,” I finally said, “If at least once you’ve laughed so hard the tears roll down your cheeks.”
How do you know you’ve had a good Thanksgiving?
When the hugs are as substantial as the dressing, the humor as tart as the cranberry sauce, when being together is as comfortable as gravy on mashed potatoes, and the love in the air is as thick as the pumpkin pie.
My son and I grinned at each other.
“And that’s how you know,” I said.