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It’s funny how your perception of a holiday changes over the years. As a child, Thanksgiving Day was just a speed bump on the race to the big one - Christmas Day. Images of dowdy pilgrims passing around plates of dried up corn bread and cups of weak tea to Indians (probably trying hard not to laugh at their guests’ ridiculous hats) didn’t fill this kid with much anticipation for the holiday.

The itinerary for the day nearly put me in a coma: watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on our black and white TV and trying to avoid the turkey gizzards and raisins in grandma’s dressing. After the last piece of pumpkin pie was devoured, the men would spill into the living room, their eyes glazed over and trouser buttons unfastened (had to make room for the pie somehow), to sit and watch hours and hours of college football while the womenfolk, including us girls, would begin on the mountain of dishes used to prepare and serve the feast.

Adding insult to injury among the young, conscripted kitchen helpers was the fact that this holiday was void of any presents that would at least reward our dishpan hands.
As an adult I see Thanksgiving through different eyes. In fact, right up there next to Easter, this fall holiday is the one I anticipate the most.

Other than Martha Stewart and every culinary women’s magazine hawking the perfect turkey, Thanksgiving itself falls under the retailer’s radar screen. You won’t find any ads in the newspaper touting sexy pilgrim lingerie, turkey-shaped chocolates or Mayflower decorations for the front yard. Instead, retailers use the day to fill newspapers with ads for the huge shopping bonanza that takes place on the day after (and now Thanksgiving Day itself).

Thanksgiving is all about the fellowship without the frills. It’s a time to put busy schedules aside and commune with one another without all the holiday hype. As long as my cheesecake comes out of the oven without a sunken middle and my mother-in-law’s legendary dressing is on the tabl, all is right with the world.

I remember one Thanksgiving Day when one of my young sons asked me where all the presents were. I laughed at his crestfallen face when he realized that he had mixed up his holidays. I then realized that the best presents were right here, each family member taking their place around the table.

As we spoke the blessing together I remembered Thanksgivings from the past, when my grandparents were still alive. But as a child I was focused on escaping from the table, leaving my dinner plate filled with squash and yams far behind. And as a result, I missed the stories of the past shared across the table; tales of my ancestors who were truly grateful to actually have food on the table during the Depression or when grandpa lost his business or the time when an aunt forgot to turn on the oven and had to serve cold roast beef sandwiches instead of turkey.

Today I am reluctant to leave the table. Instead I linger, listening and partaking in the conversations around the table; soaking in the sights and sounds of family, trying to imprint these fleeting images in my memory for the future. Because as I have grown older, I realize how really blessed I am to have a family, to be able to put food on our table and to have a warm place to sleep at night.

Thanksgiving is a time to step back from our hurried lives and take stock of those blessings and traditions we hold dear. And as I gather in the kitchen with female family members with a dishtowel in my hand listening to sounds of a football game in the living room, I realize this task was never a chore, but really a chance to reconnect with loved ones.

Kottke is the editor of the Wisconsin State Farmer

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