A Bittersweet Thanksgiving

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The Sweet:
Four families have gathered since 1974 to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner together. The party rotates between the four houses, and over the years things change — a divorce and several deaths in the immediate families. Some of the members spend time in Alaska and can not host. The gathering has visitors from Sweden, and even strangers from New Zealand who are invited to attend to try an American Thanksgiving. Some of our parents die, and our children marry, and they have children. Some years there is enough snow to sled before we eat turkey. Some years we play games like Pictionary, or the kids give the adults a musical concert. In the early years new dishes and glasses are bought and admired. Some side dishes come and go, but we always have turkey and smoked wild duck. Conversation is good and easy, and varies, but doesn’t vary much in values. We are lucky that way! No fighting between Liberals and Conservatives. Being together is comfortable, and it’s an event we all look forward to.


[Green glasses enter the tradition 1982.]


[A dear departed one.]


[Grandchildren present a holiday concert.]

The Bitter:
As one friend wrote me “Today is Sunday, and I am girding my loins for Thanksgiving week. That means that I am trying to keep my cool, not to think about all that must be done, and trying not to stress.” She expresses my sentiments exactly. As the years passed our group grew larger and larger, and when I joined in 1993, we could expect over fifteen for dinner, with some later years reaching toward thirty. Last year I had to farm out the three dogs on Wednesday and move the cats to my office, while we cleaned the house, the floors, the walls, and windows. The dogs didn’t come home until after everyone left Thanksgiving night! I had to move furniture and set up extra tables, and buy, borrow, or rent extra dishes and glassware. I felt like I was preparing for a big home wedding. By the time guests arrived, I was weary and rather flat, but still trying to smile.

The Bittersweet:
The tradition has ended. One of the couples announced last Thursday at the gathering they simply could not do it anymore. And, I was somewhat sad, and I also felt a huge relief. I had already begun to worry about the next November when I would have to host. One of the children explained how nice it would be to have their own tradition— to start their own tradition. And with our gathering ending, they could do that. And now the parents can go and visit their kids instead of the kids having to come here. So, it all makes sense. A sense of loss, a feeling of relief, and now a few days out- even a sense of new possibilities. Where will we go next year? What will we do on Thanksgiving Day? For the first time in forty – four years, it’s a question. A pleasant question indeed—but bittersweet.


12 thoughts on “A Bittersweet Thanksgiving

  1. It’s remarkable how similar our lives have paralleled one another. Particularly Thanksgiving/Christmas meals, hosting families, etc. Lib and I were just this week talking about how to shift these events down the line so the older individuals (grandparents) had less to do and could spend more time visiting the younger generation. Our families are still scattered throughout the country while serving “Uncle Sam” and the only good part about going to the Shull Grandparents for Thanksgiving or Christmas is we are centrally located so that means only half the country to cross versus coast-to-coast travel some years. We have also recognized that it is easier and less expensive for an older couple to move at their own pace, than to rush families of four or five across country with their limited travel times because of school or work demands. Hopefully in the near future our younger generation will move closer to the mid-west making shorter commutes for all involved to visit or host these events. Keep your fingers crossed.

    1. Walt – so nice to hear from you, and you bring up a variety of points I hadn’t thought of. Maybe many older people go through the process of letting the tradition move on. Probably this is so. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences on this, and Bruce and I think of both you and Lib–wishing you happy holidays and a healthy New Year!

  2. Situations, people, attitudes, weather…all change over the years…even folks that leave the fold. Our Lord is “Immutable” thus never changes. With life this side of the Jordon, we can flex and give knowing that life on the other side will be/and is very stable. Best to you and Bruce. From this Bruce Kuhlman

    1. Oh Bruce, thank you, and so nice to hear from you. Yes, change is part of this life. We can’t change that. 🙂 Wishing you and Ruth good health and happy holidays. I hope we’ll see you in the new year.

  3. Excellent! Whittled down to the essence! Looking forward to your book of prose! Survived 3 thksgs! A long bitter sweet story! Thank you charming lady! 🙂

    1. Thank you Peri– actually Bruce and I are working on a book about his time spent traveling with an old fisherman from Ketchikan , Alaska. We’ve recruited Heidi’s help too. Maybe when I turn 60, I will celebrate by publishing a few essays from each decade of life! Good to hear from you!

  4. Wow! That’s a big decision. How does Bruce feel about this? There is a lot of unnecessary pressure put on us all during the holidays. We were supposed to go to Amie’s for Thanksgiving but at the last moment it was changed to here. The night before!!! I rushed about cleaning and cooking. It was a lot of work but ended up being a lovely day. I’m tired of cooking!!!! Hahahaha! I say this as I have cinnamon rolls rising in the oven. Ha!

    1. Hi Lorie– he’s okay. Maybe I felt a little more poignant than he did. At this point in his life, he takes a lot in stride. We’ve been learning that skill from our older friends we play music with. Nice to have older mentors. 🙂 I am glad you survived dear! Changing plans at the last minute must have ruffled a few feathers! Wishing you a warm season and a healthy New Year!

  5. There’s more sweet than bitter here. I think of all the friends & family that get to choose something new next year. Choice is superior to obligation!

  6. Such courage for someone to express a desire to create their own traditions! Traditions can sometimes bring so much pressure for a time meant for joy and camaraderie.

    I gave up my family tradition at both holidays many years ago due to the challenge of my living in several states out west, beyond the ability to travel each year and for each holiday. This past year, my father passed away, last year my mom did, and I find the holidays even more difficult to contemplate. I’ve had many happy “friends” giving’s, new Christmas traditions with my siblings (no longer annually), and even spent a couple of these holidays in solitude. I’ve found a lot of grace for me during the holidays and even learned how to build new expectations.

    1. Wow Karen– that is so beautifully expressed. I anticipate holidays alone for myself too since I really have very little family. All these things come to pass, if you live long enough. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I hope to see you mid- Jan during the music fest weather willing.

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