By far my favorite holiday. Growing up, just about any holiday would be enjoyable for me, but Thanksgiving is the one that sticks out in my mind far more prominently than the others. Perhaps it's the smells associated with the meal. It is said that the association between memories and the sense of smell is stronger than that of the other senses.
To me, Thanksgiving was a day off from school, usually following an extremely early release day, translating into a four and a half day weekend. Quite the mini-vacation for a grade schooler. Family would gather and we'd watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, I'd follow that up with the Garfield special, and any other specials I could find. The meal came, and we'd eat Turkey and all the fixings, drink cider, and follow up with some pie.
Afterward, the grown-ups would find a quite place to slip peacefully into a food coma, and I'd return to my video games. The next few days would consist of turkey salad, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, and pie remnants although that was usually gone sooner than the rest.
As a child, Thanksgiving was really a chance to have a great meal, watch specials and goof off for several days.
Toward the end of my father's life (He died in 94, a cancerous tumor that started in his tongue) he found it difficult to eat. Favorite foods were no longer an option. Some things we could blend for him, which we did on Thanksgiving; a turkey-gravy shake in a small coffee mug I'd given him as a Christmas gift the year before. At the time, he was bed ridden, and the mug was easier to hold than a bowl. He enjoyed it immensely. When it became impossible to eat anything with more texture than a bowl of oatmeal, he'd express pleasure in simply smelling his favorite foods cooking.
I remember thinking it must have been torturous to be able to smell these foods cooking, knowing you wouldn't be able to partake.
The first Thanksgiving after my father had passed was strange. Things had changed. He'd been gone roughly nine months, and day to day life had only just started to feel normal. The thought occurred to me the moment I got up that morning to the smell of the first stages of Thanksgiving preparations. There'd be no turkey frappe this year.
I took the old coffee mug from the cupboard and examined it while I sat at the kitchen table in front of a pan of stuffed mushrooms that were waiting for their turn in the oven. It was a narrow eight ounce mug, suited for a small amount of coffee, with a serene painting on it of a duck pond. I remembered picking it out for him while Christmas shopping, thinking that it had no real symbolic meaning to him, but it did for me.
One of my earliest memories of being a child old enough to enjoy time with my father, yet young enough to have not appreciated it at the time, we'd walked around the Brookline reservoir. A family of ducks had come walking along in our path, two large, and a half-dozen or so little yellow chicks. The rest of the walk was mostly my father answering questions I came up with. Why don't ducks get wet. Why was one of them green about the head. How do ducks float. Why don't they get cold in the water. Typical kid stuff.
I had no idea that this mug that tugged so gently at the strings of my childhood memories would soon come to symbolize even more for me. Calm water, reeds bending gently in a light breeze, ducks placidly floating along. There was a peace in the scene on this mug. It became symbolic to me of the peace that had eventually my father had found.
The years after, I always thought back on Thanksgiving mornings to the mug, filled with thick gravy and bits of turkey breast. Thanksgiving for me now represents comfort for myself and loved ones, fond memories, and Peace.
Ironically, some of the same ideals that were professed during the first Thanksgiving, right before the New Englanders started to force the natives into small reservations and impose their "Civilization" all the while complaining that they were being treated unfairly by England.
Perhaps that's a post for another time though.