Thanksgiving, when I was a boy, was a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover illustration, with a huge, golden turkey in the center of a long table surrounded by grandparents, children and grandchildren bowed in prayer to God — or, at least something near that.
In truth, I was not always present at my Grandma Hamilton’s iconic Thanksgiving dinner table. Neither do I recall Grandpa’s prayers or the carving of the turkey (the bird typically came to the table on a platter, sliced and ready to be passed around). But, the spirit of the occasion was exactly as pictured by Rockwell and other purveyors of classic American nostalgia.
Central to Thanksgiving was not the turkey, but the gathering of family.
The eldest of nine children, Dad was first to establish his own holiday tradition apart from that of his parents, but not at the expense of the whole family gathering.
As I remember it, younger siblings were still going to my grandparents’ for years after we had established our own ritual, but we ate both at home and at Grandma’s.
Our main Thanksgiving dinner with Mom and Dad was as likely a ham as a fowl, with four boys poised to dig in precisely at high noon (Dad didn’t cotton to afternoon dinner or holiday celebrations except on that day).
Within a couple of hours of finishing our holiday dinner, we typically loaded into the car and headed towards Springfield for a second round of grazing on leftover turkey and the plethora of desserts prepared by sisters trying to outshine one another. We never stayed late, though — just long enough to eat our fill and become reacquainted with seldom-seen aunts and uncles. Holiday or not, we had cows to milk that evening.
Of course, some years we had to vary from the routine, but for as long as my grandparents were able to host Thanksgiving dinners, their farm near Pleasant View was the hub of a huge family wheel.
That wheel is mostly history now, the hub gone and the spokes strewn asunder.
But, as is the nature of family, new spokes and hubs have evolved. Though the names, faces and dinner tables have changed, Thanksgiving remains the same holiday depicted by Rockwell 76 years ago.
It’s not always easy to orchestrate, but it’s always Thanksgiving.
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Copyright James E. Hamilton, 2019.