“Pass the mashed potatoes please,” I shout from across the long, mahogany table set for twenty, yet meant for twelve. Half of us are seated on Aunt Kath’s nice cushioned, wooden chairs, and the other half sit on the old, white folding chairs that Uncle Jeff found in the basement. Aunt Denine passes the potatoes to Pop Pop, who passes them to Uncle Jeff, and from there they’re passed down the table by a few more cousins before making their way to me. I scoop three big spoonfuls onto Aunt Kath’s good white china, for they are the only Thanksgiving food I particularly like. But I am not the only one with peculiar eating habits. I look around and notice the food patterns throughout the table. Cranberries and spinach only inhabit the plates belonging to the adults, while the children’s plates lack vegetables of any kind. My brother Gedd’s plate is piled high with turkey, and turkey only. Pop Pop’s plate is full of virtually every food that has been cooked for the occasion, while Uncle Jeff’s is already scraped clean.
Conversation is its own tradition at our Thanksgiving table. Every year I can count on my cousin Lily telling a funny story about my Aunt Kiki, Pop Pop not being able to hear anything that is going on and shouting nonsense, my cousin Austin enlightening us on the sports highlights of the week, and Uncle Rick playing us his new favorite song on Uncle Jeff’s guitar. Dinner is full of laughter; it’s the night of the year that I feel the happiest.
I notice other patterns throughout this complicated web of such different individuals I call my family. There is a distinct line down the center of the table that separates the old and the new. On the left, the older generation discusses stories and events that us teenagers are too young to remember. And on the right, half the teens discuss recent gossip at our various schools, while the other half opts out on conversation altogether in favor of their cell phones.
All around me are the faces of the people I feel closest to. It seems silly to think that this is one of the few times of year that I see these people I love the most. What’s even more strange is that the very thing bringing us together is food. We share a smile over Aunt Kath’s famous stuffing. We laugh together at how Aunt Kristen continues to burn the pecan pie year after year. But best of all, this meal brings us together to remember the people who used to sit and laugh and smile at this very table right beside us. It unites us in a feeling of overwhelming love as we cherish memories that we will share for the rest of our lives. And as I look around at each smiling face, I realize that each and every person at this table means something different to me, and I’m grateful that we have this day to remind me what I have to be thankful for.