In the days of my youth, Thanksgiving dinner rotated amongst my parents and my relatives. One year, Mom and Dad would do the cooking, or Grandma and Grandpa Francis, or Uncle Bob and Aunt Judy, or Grandma and Grandpa Lawson. We had the Norman Rockwell family tree, and we still do: no dysfunctional relatives or people we couldn't stand to be around. If we did, Mom and Dad did a darn good job of hiding them from me all those years. That alone is enough to be thankful.
When my folks hosted, the table nearly filled the entire dining room. We had just enough space to sit down, especially with the china cabinet behind one side. Forget getting up for seconds. The bun warmer always sat on that cabinet, hopefully next to somebody with good aim.
"Hey, throw me a roll!"
We kidded Uncle Bob about how he downed mashed potatoes. But nobody was immune to indulgence. I once asked Grandpa what a "glutton" was. He said to ask my father. Grandma Francis made the best cranberry ice. It coated your mouth in richness. Mom still makes it, with her recipe. We always had plenty of pie.
One year, as I approached legal drinking age, Mom let me have a few shots of cranberry liqueur. It tasted just like Ocean Spray. Several hours later, I was in the throne room kneeling before the porcelain altar. I never figured out if I was sick drunk, or just sick. Maybe it was food poisoning. Whatever it was, I needed Compazine, that miracle drug that turns off nausea like a switch.
We had traditional pre- and post-meal rituals: watching football on the tube, digging through the Kansas City Star to see what the Jones Store Company had on sale tomorrow, putting our Christmas lists together. Dad's side of the family developed the lottery system for Christmas, where we drew names to determine who was playing Santa for whom. It cut down on the expense and grind of the holidays.
I haven't been home for Thanksgiving in more than 15 years. All my grandparents are gone. Turkey Day will find me stacking a newscast instead of a plate, but I can treasure the memories. And after the shows are done, you will see a person dressed in Puritan clothing gobbling up turkey sandwiches at a Tucson-area Denny's. While some traditions end, others endure.