As a kid, our family always spent Thanksgiving with a collection of aunts, uncles and cousins. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but my parents belonged to a large tribe of displaced Wyomingites. They congregated for feasting on Thanksgiving Day—usually in my aunt’s basement. I remember the basement being unfinished—cement floors, wood beams with exposed electrical wires. We ate on paper covered long, folding tables borrowed from the church and cold metal chairs. Once, I remember my mom saying that there was over 80 people there. To me, it seemed like a sea of people.
We stopped attending after my mom died. That first holiday, my dad and I went and left after five minutes. By the next Thanksgiving, my dad had married my stepmother Marie, and we celebrated with just my siblings and new step-siblings.
When I went college, I didn’t come home for Thanksgiving, Instead, I spent the long weekend my sister, her husband and children in Boise, Idaho.
After I married, I spent the holiday with my husband’s family. My mother-in-law always made a lovely meal, and typically, the four of the Tate children who lived in Southern California would come to Lake Arrowhead. Although, only 90 minutes from Orange, County, Lake Arrowhead is high in the San Bernardino Mountains and often there would be snow.
When we lived in Connecticut, we took our children, including baby Nathan, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and had dinner in a Korean restaurant in New York City.
Eventually, Grandpa Tate’s memory began to slip and living in the mountains became increasingly difficult for my in-laws. They moved to St. George, Utah about the time my children began attending school at Brigham Young University. This worked out perfectly for us. For many years, we would drive to north to St. George, and our children would drive south, and we’d meet at Grandma’s. We would hike in Zion National Park in the morning, eat in the afternoon, and play games all evening.
But Grandpa’s health declined, and my in-laws moved to Salt Lake City to be closer to my husband’s sisters. My daughter married and she and her husband moved to Las Vegas. So, my children attending BYU would drive south to Bethany’s and Larry and I would drive north. We would hike in the morning at Red Rock Canyon and eat in the afternoon and play games all evening.
This year, two of my daughters are on missions. Natalie is in Houston waiting for her visa to Taiwan. Miranda is in Uruguay. My son, Nathan and his wife and baby are in Peru. We had Bethany’s family, my oldest son, and my youngest son and his wife for dinner. We made a turkey, ate a lot of food, and played a lot of games. On Friday, we went shopping at IKEA and bought a lot of stuffed animals. We hiked in the canyon and tried to teach the dogs how to skateboard. Adam bought everything to make turkey pizzas and we each created our own with peppers, pepperoni and pineapples. On Saturday, we went to Oceanside and rented six people bikes and cruised up and down the strand. After church on Sunday, we decorated the house with Christmas garb, and cookies with frosting and sprinkles to deliver the elderly families who attend our church.
My sister-in-law once said of the holidays, it’s not always the same, but it can still be very nice. Sometimes, I miss the years in Lake Arrowhead with my fun-loving in-laws. I miss my young children with a gentle ache. But I find that my grandchildren have come to fill in all the empty spaces. My husband once said that as time passes, we have more and more people to love. I doubt that we’ll ever recreate the Thanksgivings of my childhood with 80 people in an unfinished basement, or that we’ll have a house in Lake Arrowhead like my in-laws. I don’t see us going back to New York City. I don’t think my daughter will live in Las Vegas for much longer. Eventually, my children will all graduate from BYU. I hope they’ll each marry and have children of their own. In time, they will host their own Thanksgivings, and Larry and I may, or may not, be their guests. The challenge will be to make every holiday special in and of itself.
And that’s true of not just the holidays, but every day.