When I was L’s age in the early eighties, Thanksgiving
almost always meant hours in a car when I was a kid. We lived in the southwestern portion of Virginia, with family in Nashville and the Charlotte area, which mean alternating Thanksgiving journeys of six and four hours respectively. After living in Poland and depending on public transportation for so long, four- and six-hour journeys don’t seem like much of anything at all (I recall making back from Warsaw to my village in the south exceptionally quick once in the late-nineties and thinking, “Wow, it only took me nine hours!”). At the time, though, the trips, especially to Nashville, were endless. Add to it my propensity to car sickness and it became a little slice of hell.
The trips to Nashville were simple, small affairs: we stayed on my mother’s brother’s small farm, and I was essentially alone most of the weekend as my cousins were all much, much older than I (at least at that age, ten years seemed like “much, much”). The great advantage was it was, indeed, a farm, with lots of acreage and a magical, huge barn by a small pond my uncle dug out himself. It was on this farm that I caught my first fish and first shot a gun (my father’s relatively rare bolt-action shotgun). My cousins would make a tunnel in the hay just for me (or so I thought — the truth involved church youth groups), and the hall closet included more board games than I knew existed.
Trips to South Carolina were often much different. Often, my father’s whole family gathered together, and with four sisters and a brother, all with their own kids, some of whom had kids themselves (I was the second-youngest on this side of the family), it could be quite a gathering. The vast majority of my father’s family smoked at that point, and weather was always a concern. “We don’t want to be cooped up in that house with all those smokers,” my parents would comment.
This pattern continued through most of my life, even into college. Then, off to Poland for three years, and Thanksgiving became a gathering with the few other Americans in the area or perhaps nothing at all. Then, two years in Boston and Thanksgiving with a friend’s family, followed by four more years in Poland, during which time I don’t think I celebrated Thanksgiving a single time.
In recent years, we’ve taken to hosting our own little Thanksgiving dinners. “I’ll take Thanksgiving,” I told K, and so it was for a couple of years. I found a great recipe for stuffing that I ruined the second time though by playing around with it. And I invented a butternut squash soup that was good enough to repeat the next year.
This year, though, we headed back to family in South Carolina, just east of us, closer to the Charlotte area. My cousin and her husband made a straw house some fifteen or so years ago that in the intervening time has grown and grown becoming charmingly eclectic in all senses.
She and her family always have exchange students staying with them, so there’s always an international flair to the dinner with K’s Polish additions (by request) and Korean heat.
The Boy made a new friend in an old cousin. It might have been the first time that K saw E. (Initials only can get confusing. Perhaps I should call cousin K “K2” or something similar.) He immediately charmed her, and she played with him and watched over him the entire afternoon.
But through all the changes in how I’ve experienced Thanksgiving, some things never change.