Thanksgiving 2020 will be unlike any other in our lifetimes — most of us, anyway.
Was it just last year that the house was filled with the smells of turkeys roasting, oyster dressing steeping in its savory seasonings, lima beans boiling over?
Bread baking, pies tempting us from the kitchen counter.
Where are the faces that gathered here then? Where did they go and from where have they returned — if they have returned — this year? How have the events of the past 360-odd days changed them? Changed all our lives. Irrevocably.
In our case, one is returning from her first semester in college. Another got through a tumultuous high school semester with a 4.0 GPA. A new driver is on the road and a dancer still performs “The Nutcracker,” but in a vastly different venue before a much more limited audience.
At the tables, settings have changed. Seasons pass and lives reflect realities of the movement of young lives and the departures or forced absences of grandparents, uncles and aunts, distant relatives made more distant, ironically, by the one thing we share in common more than anything else this year: Pandemic.
People will deal with the threats in different ways — caution, denial, defiance, fear, faith, desperation, courage, hope. For some, despair.
But change is inevitable. For all the nostalgia about the traditions of the Thanksgiving rituals, most families are probably a lot like ours — constancy for about 10 years or so, with adjustments, until you look up one day and realize how different things were back in the good old days.
Norman Rockwell’s iconic portrait of an American family sharing the plenty of a holiday turkey is the ideal, and memory tends to filter out the misadventures of past gatherings. Arguments, too much beer.
This is the first year in half a century that my wife and I have not shared a table with family. We will have a roasted chicken in our cottage on the edge of a woods on the hill and feel fortunate to share it. We are grateful knowing that our sons, their wives and our grandchildren will be at other tables, continuing some of the traditions we shared in past years, but creating new ones of their own. With luck, we hope to rejoin them in better days.
We will be thinking — as we have every year — of those who first brought us to a family table to count our blessings, share our joy of living in a country with so many opportunities to be fed, sheltered, kept safe from ravages of war and limited access to health care.
Americans have differing definitions of social justice, but at least we all value some attempt to achieve it. We have been blessed with the accident of being born into a political system where equality and fairness is at least an idea on the table. We can squabble over who will lead the efforts, but the grand American plan is still workable; indeed, it was designed to be a plan with a solid foundation upon which to revise, improve, build and repair damages caused by abuses.
When I was a child, the first Thanksgiving traditions shown me were being welcomed to the home of new friends, because my family was new in town, recently separated from extended family in faraway places. My parents were starting over.
When I married, I was welcomed into the traditions of my wife’s grandparents. Then we were parents, and over the years, things changed, but the essence remained constant.
Our sons married into the traditions of their wives, and we were included — as grandparents. Things change, but in many ways remain the same.
This is an off year. It’s not what we would choose, but with all the blessings we have had so far, we can see reason for optimism for the future. For us, our children, and the nation.