Folded up in the back of my recipe box are greasy sheets of notebook paper filled with Mike's scrawling. Homemade stuffing. How to make turkey gravy. How to stuff the turkey. How to make a pie crust. All written during numerous phone calls with his mom between Denver and Chicago. They're from our first years of marriage, and those greasy pages have guided us through many a Thanksgiving production over the years. Early on, Mike's parents came for the holiday about every other year; eventually they moved here. My mom and extended family have always come, and year by year a baby or two joined the mix--a child of ours, a new cousin. For so many years the cooking happened in-between nursing and diaper changes, naps and play breaks. We set up assembly lines of bread and vegetable chopping, onion-simmering, turkey-cleaning. Grandparents came a day early for food prep, and year by year the boys began to grasp that Thanksgiving is all about lots of commotion, good smells, plans with family, hours of play time with cousins, games and sitting close with grandparents, and sometimes new, friendly faces.
If I'm honest, there have been tiring days and weeks getting ready for these gatherings. We've had plenty of cooking fiascos. Just last year the foil turkey pan was gouged with a knife and I found turkey juice and oil days later seeped down inside the cupboard. But it's also gotten a little easier over time. The recipes have become so familiar we don't have to pull them out and follow the steps. The boys help with food and place cards. It's become a traditional, anticipated season.
Not so in my own childhood. Holiday traditions took a turn when my parents split up and each year became a different combination of here and there and what and how. We gave up on tradition and, without saying it in so many words, simply accepted each holiday for what it brought and who we were with. Now, two of my siblings and one of Mike's also face this reality of back and forth with kids and ex-spouses. Once again, we all have learned to take the day as it comes.
When I think about Thanksgiving as a parent and as a moderately accomplished Thanksgiving chef who accepts any and all help, I come back to those gravy-stained recipes and realize that family love and grace, shared together and with others, is what holidays are meant to be in the spirit of Jesus. Tradition is wonderful when it fits. When that recipe doesn't work, flexing with one another and appreciating each hour for what it brings is really what it means to be grateful. No doubt all our families are stained and worn in one way or another. It's in unfolding those grease-covered pages of our lives and partaking together in whatever the day holds that we really live out with our kids the meaning of Thanksgiving.