Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate family

It’s the sea­son. The ri­ot­ous pre­par­a­tions, the rush of home­com­ings and the 21-pound tur­key — all will be tak­ing cen­ter stage in our house­hold, and prob­ably yours, this week.

What makes this year so dif­fer­ent and spe­cial for Jew­ish fam­il­ies is that we also will be cel­eb­rat­ing Ha­nukkah, with every­one ex­claim­ing, “Wow, this is weird!”

But it’s also won­der­ful. The con­flu­ence of two hol­i­days, both in vary­ing ways about grat­it­ude, is spe­cial and so rare that the next time it will hap­pen will be in a mere 70,000 years from now. So we’re talk­ing rare in­deed.

Fas­cin­at­ing as that is, I find my­self con­cen­trat­ing on things far less rare, but to me, equally re­mark­able.

We’re among the lucky ones. Our fam­ily will gath­er to­geth­er on Thanks­giv­ing day. All of us. In oth­er years, it has not been quite so com­plete a con­tin­gent. In those years, someone — or sev­er­al someones — would be miss­ing for vari­ous reas­ons. But this year, sev­en noisy grand­chil­dren will be at our table. 

Three sons-in-laws who have long since shed the “in-law” status and be­come the sons we nev­er had, will be in our midst. Gentle Jeff brings a sense of calm to us, psy­cho­ana­lyst Dav­id helps us to un­der­stand ourselves without ever be­ing a pedant­ic Dr. Freud and Mi­chael, the young­est of the bunch, will keep us laugh­ing, as al­ways.   

On Thanks­giv­ing day, that old beast of bur­den, our an­tique din­ing room table, will be stretched to the lim­it. We have had some heartaches — that’s part of be­ing a fam­ily. We miss those whose ab­sence at the table is a palp­able pres­ence. But again, loss is part of the dance of the gen­er­a­tions.

It seems so many Thanks­giv­ings ago since we sat, stunned and si­lent, as we ac­know­ledged what made that Thanks­giv­ing of 2001 so dif­fer­ent from all the oth­ers. Like people in Kan­sas and Cali­for­nia, Ken­tucky and Idaho, we had all re­cog­nized that noth­ing would ever be quite the same after Sept. 11.

That year, no mat­ter what our per­son­al polit­ics, we had prayed for a bet­ter fu­ture for this ragged old Plan­et Earth. 

At our Thanks­giv­ing table this year, we prob­ably won’t be think­ing of all that as we look around at the faces we know so well, and dig in­to dishes that have taken on a life of their own as fam­ily mem­bers.   

The old fam­ily home where we gathered for 28 Thanks­giv­ings is no longer the fam­ily home. That has re­quired a ma­jor emo­tion­al shift be­cause our con­domin­i­um, des­pite its more prac­tic­al floor plan, hasn’t yet earned the pat­ina of fa­mili­ar­ity. 

We’ve had to learn, as we take stock of where we are in our own fam­ily uni­verse this Thanks­giv­ing/Ha­nukkah, that change is, as they say, in­ev­it­able.

One daugh­ter has got­ten a well-de­served pro­mo­tion, an­oth­er has cau­tiously tried a new ca­reer. . Our old­est grand­daugh­ter is a sopho­more in col­lege with all the in­her­ent pleas­ures - and pres­sures - of that stage of life. Our young­est grand­son hit two home runs for his base­ball team this fall, and is walk­ing very, very tall.

My sis­ter has had the good sense to re­tire from her ul­tra-de­mand­ing col­lege teach­ing job to pause, meta­phor­ic­ally, at least, to smell those fam­ous flowers.

My hus­band has been smelling those flowers after work­ing with grace and com­pas­sion in the bat­tle­field of justice.

Yes, there have been joys and dis­ap­point­ments and set­backs great and small for us in the year that stretched between last Thanks­giv­ing and this double-hol­i­day. There have been mo­ments of pain and loss. But as I search out re­cipes on the crumpled pages of old cook­books, I feel a swell of grat­it­ude.

An over­whelm­ing sense of thank­ful­ness wraps it­self around me.

We are about to cel­eb­rate the quint­es­sen­tial Amer­ic­an hol­i­day - and a joy­ous Jew­ish one - in the only way we know: as a flawed, noisy but lov­ing fam­ily.

How mar­velous. ••

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