Giving Thanks


Life was predictably unpredictable in my home as a kid, but one thing I could count on being exactly the same every year was Thanksgiving… always a picture Norman Rockwell would be pleased to paint.

The big day required massive behind-the-scenes preparation commencing days before the actual event. One of two opportunities in a year to use Mom’s crystal and good china, she washed (and dried) each and every setting by hand. She polished the silver, ironed the linens, arranged and labeled the serving dishes, and readied the Sterno. 

Wednesday was peel, peel, chop, chop, plop, plop - right into bubbling water. Then mash and stash in the back hall until the next day. Mom awoke at 5 am Thursday morning and took Tom out of the fridge to “rest” (?) while she finished preparing the stuffing. The aroma of sauteed celery and onions reminded me to watch Bullwinkle on TV at the Macy’s Day parade. By the time I went downstairs, the table was set, Tom was in the oven, the nuts and celery were plated, and Mom and Pop were sipping coffee, eating toast, and reading the paper - just like any other morning.

So predictable, organized and scheduled was this process, that the enormity of Mom’s efforts was taken for granted by all. She made it look so easy – and she probably didn’t need any help (… thought my preternaturally self-absorbed 11 year old self…)

At one point, our family, including spouses, boyfriends and a smattering of grandkids, numbered 12.  Over the years, we spread out all over the country, starting families and traditions of our own while Mom and Pop joined the ranks of other New England Snowbirds in Florida.

After the first year of “doing” Thanksgiving dinner for my own family, I understood that there was no actual magic in the Rockwell feast that magically appearing on our table every year. It involved a lot of work. I had no idea. No idea.

In an effort to carry on tradition, I sought the same memorable scene for my own family year after year… right down to the stuffed celery and olives. No detail was overlooked... china, crystal, silver, and a 23 pound turkey. I approached Thanksgiving with Mom’s vim and vigor and only hoped for her skill.

Though I never saw her with a list, I knew I’d need something to keep it all straight. To that end, and with a shiny new legal pad in hand, I created The List; three pages of yellow lined paper outlining every possible pertinent detail;  The Menu, To Buy, and To Do. I saved my carefully crafted tome in a special spot, to be reviewed each and every Thanksgiving. (No sense in splitting the atom more than once). Very specific, and carried out with relative precision.     

There came a point when I no longer relied on The List; I’d developed a certain muscle memory and could reproduce the meal without written assistance. Around this time, a dear friend shared that she was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner for her new husband and in-laws. The gift of all gifts, I gave her The List; torn and tattered from years of referencing, I knew it would direct her on the true path to holiday perfection. Her gratitude was palpable.

Recreating Mom’s Thanksgiving is just one of many opportunities I’ve be given over the years to walk in her shoes and see things from a different perspective. Now living in my childhood home and caring for Mom (next door), I understand that things are not always as they appear… that happy holiday ho-downs at my childhood home didn’t just happen… that much of the joy I experienced in my youth was the result of Mom’s hard work and love.

So, on this day of sharing gratitude, I put Mom at the top of my list and say thanks Mom, from the bottom of my heart, and Happy Thanksgiving to all ~

Emily Gaffney4 Comments