Thanksgiving was always a big gathering in our family. The holiday brought in not only the local Oklahoma kinfolk, but also the cousins and in-laws and distant relatives that drove in from parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas.
That meant lots – and LOTS – of planning over who would bring what, how much, and so on.
Some parts were a given, like the sun comes up in the morning. Thanksgiving meant Aunt Bee’s green Jell-O salad. My mother’s corn casserole. Aunt Alice’s stuffed peppers.
One year when I was little, the sisters and cousins had laid out all their plans and Aunt Max, my mother’s oldest sister, volunteered to bring the turkey. Aunt Max wasn’t much of a cook, so the other sisters made sure that she was up to the task. Would she get a big enough one? Oh yes, she promised. Would she get a hen and not a tom? Absolutely.
Aunt Max (standing in the middle between her brothers, Roy, and Travis in this picture) was tall and thin, funny, and quick-talking. She worked in a dress shop, and she owned a cashmere coat. She never took anything too seriously, including time. She was the only person I’d ever known who wore shiny leopard print PJs with big gold buttons.
Thanksgiving dinner was set for noon, and most of the family was there by mid-morning. But not Aunt Max. Noon came. The table was set. The sweet potato casseroles were out of the oven. The pies were on display on the hutch. The Jell-O molds had been flopped out onto special plates. Food was piled everywhere. Still no Aunt Max.
My mother fretted and Aunt Alice fumed. The boys buzzed around trying to get a spoonful of this or a crust of that. Aunt Bee tried to keep everything in order. Still no Aunt Max.
Then one of the boys spotted her coming up the walk with Uncle Crowbar (that name is another story). She had her arms full, and he was lugging the biggest roaster pan I’d ever seen. They burst through the front door, Uncle Crowbar saying nothing, but Aunt Max in full throttle. Kisses all around. The far-away cousins had all grown. The pies smelled great. Great Aunt LaLa’s new dress was “smashing.” And the turkey she had brought would amaze us all.
Uncle Crowbar banged the heavy roaster on the kitchen countertop as people crowded around to see the turkey. With a flourish, Aunt Max lifted the lid, proclaiming “Biggest Turkey Ever!”
Everyone jumped back. It was raw.
A cold, raw turkey that might be great after about six hours of roasting, but that right now was disgusting. And inedible.
A giant uproar followed as various people loudly explained that “bring the turkey” meant a cooked turkey. Aunt Max considered that possibility, then just laughed her gravelly laugh.
She announced that we would eat Thanksgiving dinner in layers – a Jell-O course, a potato course, a pie course, and so on – finishing off with a turkey course, in about six hours.
It worked. Eventually everyone got back to talking about how much the distant cousins had grown and how very special Great Aunt LaLa’s dress was. And Aunt Max was never in charge of bringing the turkey again.
Thanksgiving is a time to eat – and a time to celebrate the kindness of strangers, to remember what our families have sacrificed for us, and to count our many blessings.
I know it’s not always easy to be hopeful in times like these, but as Bruce and I gather this morning at our kids’ and grandkids’, with Aunt Bee’s Jell-O salad in the fridge and our son Alex deep-frying the turkey, I’m more hopeful than ever. The courage and passion that people like you have shown in Massachusetts and all across the country this past year – to take on each other’s fights as our own and build a future for all of our kids – is stronger than ever. I believe in this America, and what we can accomplish together.
I wish you a happy Thanksgiving with people you love. And, if something unexpected comes your way, I hope you smile, readjust, and give thanks for all the important things that still go right.
I’m deeply thankful that you’re a part of this team.