Give Thanks, Whether You Want To or Not

The other night I was looking through old photographs and I came across one of my least favorites.  It’s a picture of me sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house.  My guess is that I was 18 or 19 years old, and I was not happy about being there.

The table itself could easily have been a photograph for a magazine with its huge dishes of potato filling, corn, sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, cole slaw, gravy, bread, and real butter. I am the only one at the table, and the look of my face is downright frightening.  What is more alarming than that picture is my memory of our holidays as a family.

This time of year brings families together for better or worse.  When I was a kid, my expectation for holidays was something right out of whatever TV show was popular at the time.  The TV families always had a comfy yet roomy colonial home, nicely furnished , smartly decorated, with a fire in the fireplace.  Everyone was thankful for the extraordinary bounty of food, friends, and family.  My family’s holidays were not like that.

The holidays can be challenging even for those with ideal families.  The stress and anticipation of a wonderful-time-had-by-all is enough to dampen even a pleasant get-together.  At my parents’ house, the stress usually resulted in a fight or two. That awful picture of me sitting by myself at a fully dressed table most likely was taken before, during, or after a fight.  Obviously it was my intention to eat as fast as I possibly could and then get out of Dodge.

Thanksgiving was always an awkward holiday at my parents’ house.  No one said thanks.  For anything.  Not even the food.  Sure we had problems, maybe more than the average family, but certainly someone could have thought of something to give thanks for, even if it was just getting through the day without bodily injury.

My family has been gone for some time now, but the memories linger as a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for today.  This year my husband and I will have a quiet Thanksgiving with friends whose company we enjoy wholeheartedly.  We’ll eat too much, laugh a lot, tell stories, and get home in time for the NFL game.  If it’s cold, we’ll have a fire and languish in the thought of three more vacation days.  Ah, the good life.

For those of you who read this as a “bah humbug” holiday story, take note:  it is anything but.  It is a reminder for all families and friends who will be gathering over the holidays to find joy and gratitude for the lives we have and the people we love.

Even if it seems like there is nothing to be thankful for, look around.  Just for one day, put aside the problems, the conflicts, and the acrimony and find the good in your life.   You’ll be thankful that you did.

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