As I found out when I read a poem about family to my poetry group, the term family is for many loaded with negative implications. Unhappy childhoods, misbehaving or denigrating progeny, difficult relationships all become causes of grief and unhappiness. Quarrels erupt over division of property or when sharing the belongings of the deceased. Yet to me, family members may not necessarily be of blood but are of the heart and the relationships are often more peaceful and happier.
When I was growing up, we would have Thanksgiving dinner at the home of either my grandmother Nonny, or my great aunt Alice. As a child I didn’t like having meals at Nonny’s because her dining room chairs were uncomfortable. They had horsehair woven into the seats and it prickled the backs of my legs. Also, there were toys at Aunt Alice’s that I never got to play with except at holiday gatherings. They were special, and unusual. She had a wooden music player that hung from a strap, with a handle that played metal disks that were inserted, with different tunes, and a wonderful bunny that emerged from a head of lettuce and wiggled his ears.
Because my dad’s family was apt to have much to disagree about, most of the Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood featured a guest who was not a member of the family. The reasoning was that there would not be any “rows” as they called their arguments, in front of a guest who was not a family member. I think it must have worked because I don’t seem to remember any fierce or discordant discussions.
Later, when I had my own family, we had Thanksgiving dinners at our house. The table we sat around was the same one I had sat at, as a child, at Nonny’s although not on the same chairs. My children’s grandmother on their father’s side always came for holiday dinners. She was a rather formal lady with wonderful manners we weren’t always used to. She would say, “My that cranberry sauce looks good.” What she intended was for someone to say, “would you like some? And pass it to her,” which, of course none of us realized.
My father had a toast he always said at every Thanksgiving dinner. It followed the toast to the hostess—inevitably Nonny or Aunt Alice. He would hold up his glass and say solemnly, “A toast to the absent ones.” As time went on more and more of those to be thought of were those who were absent from this earthly life. Now that it is my turn to say the toast, I am aware of how many who once graced my table are no longer available to invite.
All of the family members that graced the Thanksgiving tables of my childhood have gone on to the heavenly table to share their Thanksgivings with the angels. I miss them. Over the years my own Thanksgiving table has been graced by a variety of friends and relatives. As my circle of acquaintances has grown, so has the circle of my extended family. I no longer live close enough for them to visit or to have them for a Thanksgiving meal, however I am very glad for their presence in my life. My family of the heart is large and varied, and I think of them with love and gratitude.