Thanksgiving was a big deal at our house when I was growing up.
So naturally, when I married and started hosting my own, I continued the tradition.
Time and energy were put into planning the menu, decorating, cleaning the house, pulling out the best china and tablecloths. The night before I would bake at least four desserts. I wanted to present the best food and experience for the guests.
One year, I realized that while we had celebrated Thanksgiving with all kinds of family and friends, I had not spent a Thanksgiving with my dad for twenty-some years, mainly because my mom divorced him the same year I got married.
Now, this lack of spending Thanksgivings together was not because we never saw one another. He was a beloved member of our family and one of our favorites. Most every summer, he would drive 12 hours to come visit us for a month or two. And most every vacation we talked him into joining us.
We had many memories of my dad and us doing, going, and celebrating. None, though, involved Thanksgiving.
So, one night during our weekly two-hours chats, I suggested we come visit him over the Thanksgiving holiday.
He protested, at first, saying it was a long way to drive for only a few days. He also reminded me that he lived in a small two-bedroom apartment.
When he heard I was serious, he started to get excited.
Now, my dad was a poor farm boy who grew into a humble hardworking man with simple tastes. He drove a 15- year old car and furnished his apartment from finds at the thrift store. Possessions were not important to him. Relationship and people were.
We squeezed in that first night, hubby and I sleeping in the extra bedroom, the two children on the living room floor.
Dad hovered over us, concerned for our comfort and the lack of space at his place. He even suggested a hotel room.
No; we had come to spend time with him.
I wanted this Thanksgiving to be special for my dad. I wanted to make delicious food he did not cook for himself as a bachelor. I wanted him to feel loved by us. I wanted to make up for all those Thanksgivings we had not shared together. But cooking breakfast in his small kitchen, with about two feet of workable counter space, I realized I was going to have to pare back my grand Thanksgiving plans.
Despite that small kitchen, I managed to bake a delicious turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, a vegetable, fruit salad, stuffing, and cobbler.
Dad’s kitchen table only sat two. So, when it came time for the grand feast, dad pulled out a plastic-topped card table with four matching chairs. Then he pulled up a kitchen chair. We set the table for five. No fine china. No tablecloth. No flowers. No fancy little butter dish or roll plates. But there was laughter, love, stories, and good will flowing in and out and around that small apartment.
We had a simpler Thanksgiving that year. Humbler food and surroundings, but it did not matter. Because if you had looked around that little living room and seen us sitting there at the card table with laden-down plates, laughing and eating, you would have seen the love. Felt the closeness. Seen the delight in my children’s eyes. Noticed the sparkle in my dad’s eyes at the joy of sharing this day and gift with us.
When it comes down to it, I usually stress and worry about Thanksgiving. What to cook? Who to invite? How to decorate? When the important thing is the atmosphere, the love, and the offering of the food itself to those who come to participate.
That was the last Thanksgiving I had with my dad. He died unexpectedly a few years later.
But like he did so often in life with his quiet and humble manner, he taught me that a simpler Thanksgiving in a tiny living room on a card table can be the best Thanksgiving of all.