Generally speaking, 'most any evening after about 11pm my stocky figure might be traversing the aisles in the ShopRite grocery store in Northvale, NJ. Just about 2 miles from my house, Emmy-Lou and I head over there for bonding time and - ever the vigilant consumer - to save a few sou on grocery sales tax.
I remember wandering the aisles in amazement when - about mid August - Halloween trappings began popping up (or over... some of the displays are high up and hover over shoppers head like Snoopy imitating a vulture). About mid-September came the first marketing gleam of Christmas - in the guise of the wrapper around the famous Doughboy's slice and bake cookies.
Thanksgiving is wedged in there.... you'll see a cute-ified, child-faced pilgrim couple or a poster of a basically brown and red turkey with
the feathers, of course.
A couple of nights ago I picked up real, fresh cranberries which I intend to be the main ingredient of a cranberry/apple/orange/walnut relish I am fond of. Oh yes, and nuts! I have been eating nuts year-round to get the proper fiber and healthy oils into my system so they are not - for me, anyway - a seasonal item.
The cashier at the check out noticed my purchases...."Oh, you're buying for Thanksgiving.." her voice trailed off at the end. Acutally, I just plain like nuts and you can only find fresh cranberries around here in November and December
. She continued drawing the items over the "bleeper" that reads the IPC codes (those funky stripes in the rectangle) or punching in codes. In a fairly perky voice she proclaimed "I don't celebrate Thanksgiving. They don't have any good songs." I probably said something to her that made little sense and was of little consequence. I went back into the rain and into my car to an expectant Em thinking how much music and tradition is linked to our holidays.
Before going to sleep that night I recalled nostalgically kneeling with my sister on the bathroom floor of our apartment on the second floor of 180 Main Street, Chatham, NJ. Dangling elbows, heads and hands over the rim of the tub with the lion's feet we would scoop down into the fairly hot soapy water, fetch up some silverplate, dry it off and apply the pastey pink Gorham Silver Polish. Then, after getting into all the nooks and crannies of the scroll work, dunking the piece back into the foamy soak to get off the pink the residue. The final stage was to buff everything to a mirror shine, bring it directly to the cloth-ed table and set up. We peeled potatos to the sounds of the Macy's parade pouring forth from the cabineted black and white TV in the living room. It was the one time during the year when my mother would smile facing a bowl of whipped turnip - yes, turnip.
We would alternate the Thanksgiving location on my father's side of the family: one year at our house, one year with my Uncle Bob and Aunt Ruthie. That way, you only got pink wrinkled fingers every other year. Such preparation and cloth aprons for the lady-folk. An electric knife shuttled between locations, too, to carve the very large bird into manageable pieces... and slices for turkey sandwiches later on. There was an adult table and.... the infamous card table where all of us cousins were relegated to. I remember that about in 1964 I finally made it to the table table - and felt VERY grown up. The standard blessing was said over the food. The feast must not have lasted long and most of us 'clean plate club' members managed seconds. Later on people fell asleep in any number of positions in one living room or other, belt around the waist loosened to prevent agony, in the middle of one football game or another. Later in the day (after a food induced nap) we would head to Uncle Eddie and Aunt Betty's (mom's brother/sister in law)home for a sandwhich or slice of pie or plum pudding with hard sauce and ah yes, more cousins.
Coming back to today for a moment,my mind turned to the music of Thanksgiving. Then I remembered that we learned these songs in public elementary school. Old timer that I am, the corner of my mouth crinkles when now I see Hymn 433 ("We gather together"), or Hymn 290 ("Come ye Thankful People, Come"). I can humm them still! Perhaps you are familiar with Hymn 291 ("We Plow the Fields and Scatter"). There are others, I am certain. Each holding a place in the heart.
It is important for us to establish traditions and, if you don't as yet have one for Thanksgiving, may I suggest - before consuming the meal in 15 minutes that took 8 hours to prepare - that you and your guests share either "A General Thanksgiving" in the Book of Common Prayer on p.836, or the Litany of Thanksgiving (and guests can each read an intention or two) on p.837. It takes longer, but certainly the thanks to God and the gathering are due.
Thanksgiving may not have it's "Silent Night" or "The Fight is O'er, the Battle Won" - because it is a national observance rather than a religious one... yet just about every country (and religion) sets aside a day to give thanks for the harvest and for plenty. So, whether over a nuked dinner and a diet Coke on a TV table or over the fine china and trussed bird, let us give thanks for all our blessings. Amen and Amen.