As a child, the holidays were always exciting, beginning with Thanksgiving.
There was the crisp fall air, the colorful leaves dancing in the breeze carrying the promise of winter and a cozy fire to keep the chill off of the house. My mother had three sisters, and they rotated hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Easter celebrations.
One of my mother’s sisters, Auntie, who was married to my father’s youngest brother, Uncle Bob, lived in the same town as us. Our families were together at every holiday, and we often just spent time together working and playing as one family.
Included in most gatherings was my father’s mother, my Oma. She was a defining person in my life and with all others who are no longer here, will reside in my heart locked in time forever.
Such relationships are the foundation of what giving “thanks” means. The most important gifts to be appreciated and celebrated are the most basic, and they are those shared with loving and giving people. With those gifts and many others, I have been blessed.
My aunt and uncle raised two turkeys, Oscar and Meyer. Oscar was a large male, and though his partner, Meyer, laid numerous clutches of eggs, none ever hatched. The turkeys were terrible pets. I was often called upon to rescue a younger sibling cornered by a turkey.
I was a small child myself, and just as afraid, but being the oldest of four siblings, when someone more vulnerable than myself needed to be rescued, I would muster the courage to rescue them. I often wished for an older brother.
I remember the Thanksgiving when I was 8 years old, and we were at Auntie’s and Uncle Bob’s for Thanksgiving. As usual, all of the children were outside playing. My oldest cousin, Ray, then 15, would draw a line in the field, where he would stand as a team of one against six for a rotten-apple fight. Every year Ray was victorious – surprise.
They had two apple trees, and rotten apples would accumulate beneath the trees just in time for the Thanksgiving apple fight. Almost as quickly as we could gather the apples, they took air seeking a target. Being trapped by rotten apples stung and Ray didn’t take much mercy. He was out to win.
It was cold outside, but children are never deterred from playing outside by mere weather. Oma would come out from time to time to check on us, admonish Ray to take it easy on “the younger kids” and when she returned to the house, the rotten apples flew again with as much force as possible.
When we were called in for dinner, we all ran to take our turn at the wash tub to clean our hands and tidy up. Once assembled at the table, a prayer was said by Oma. Then we would go around the table giving thanks for our genuine gratitude and listening to our parents offer heartfelt homage for those loved and missed.
Now, the time to savor a special meal and engage in fun conversation would begin. Uncle Bob had the turkey in front of him as he positioned the fork in the turkey to steady it. He held the carving knife upon the breast. However, before he began carving the turkey, his head dropped. He began to cry. Concern intensified as we all wondered what has resulted in this emotional display.
As Uncle Bob lifted his tear-stained face to all of us sitting at the table he said, “I can’t do it.” My father asked him what was wrong, and he began to cry again as he told us that the turkey in front of us is Oscar. We all started to cry.
My dad exclaimed, “Oh, heck, Bob!” and he removed the turkey from the table. Oma and Auntie hugged Uncle Bob and Oma instructed us to bow our heads. She said a prayer that included honoring words to Oscar and then we began to pass our plates to be served – everything but turkey.
Sharing time, love, conflicts, stories, tears and laughter, I remain grateful and appreciative for learning the meaning of Thanksgiving as a child from those who had survived with much less than I would ever experience.
I am forever beholden to all of those then and now who celebrate the heritage embodied by humanity, love, loyalty, sharing and genuine gratitude symbolizing the giving of thanks.
Sharon L. Johnson of Shaver Lake, is a clinical psychologist and author of professional books.