Thanksgiving always was a big deal in my family when I was a kid.
Grandma and Poppy Hines (my paternal grandparents) hosted the yearly event at their Dutch colonial house. Grandma started planning for the meal in mid-October and usually was one of the first people I knew to order her fresh turkey a month ahead. It was the largest one she could get without it being tough and tasteless. After all, Thanksgiving involved 20 or more people, all crammed around a makeshift table on their front porch.
The porch ran the width of their home but was narrow. The table was made of plywood sheets atop wooden saw horses. But one wouldn't ever know because it always was festively decorated with crisp white tablecloths and Grandma's good silver.
Everyone had assigned places and we had to be seated in order, with the person at the far end of the table getting situated first. (God forbid if that person had to leave early or use the bathroom.) Poppy sat at the head of the table at the other end -- and never said a word, except for when he demanded the gravy. In subsequent years, Grandma got smart and gave him his own gravy bowl so she didn't have to hear about it.
Thanksgiving was the holiday when we saw the New York relatives -- great aunts and uncles, my father's brother and his family, and some miscellaneous relatives. These family members -- who lived in Queens or out on Long Island -- always fascinated me because they were loud and funny and talked fondly about their neighborhoods, which seemed like foreign lands to me.
As Grandma got older and just couldn't handle the big affair any longer, my mom took over. She was perfectly suited for it as she loved to plan, well, anything. She even started making some of the meal in late October, like appetizers, and stocking the bar (my father's job).
By this time, we had moved from our house in Norwalk to a larger one in Weston, plenty of room for the extended family to mingle, but still not big enough for a table for 20.
So again the plywood and horses came out and were situated on our backyard porch. I don't remember Poppy coming to our house on Thanksgiving. And if he did, he didn't stay long. He wasn't one to socialize. He was happier sitting at home in his small den smoking Pall Malls and reading Zane Grey novels.
As members of the family died or moved, Thanksgiving dinner got smaller. For a few years, it was only me, Mom, Dad and Aunt Dorothy. And after Dad and Aunt Dorothy passed and Mom had moved to assisted living, she and I had Thanksgiving dinner together at her residence's dining room. Even though years before, my sister had assumed the Thanksgiving meal planning and hosting at her and her husband's house in Newtown for the "blended family" (his, hers and whoever else) and we always were invited, Mom wanted a quieter time -- until last year.
We decided it would be nice to be with more people and said we would spend the holidays with the rest of the clan (except for Christmas, which is a whole other story to tell. Suffice to say, that holiday at my sister's is chaotic and Mom opted to skip it).
Mom got to spend Thanksgiving 2011 and Easter 2012 with the family, and had a great time, especially being with and watching her great-grandsons, who always gave her so much joy.
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for what we have. And I am thankful that Mom was able to spend a few holidays with the extended family before she died.
The following is the last stanza of the poem "Thanksgiving" by Edgar Albert Guest that aptly describes my sentiments about this time of year:
Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers.
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines or @patricia_hines on Twitter.