By: John Holleman
It was Thanksgiving again, which meant that my family was making the long trek eastward to be around my siblings and their families back at the Old Home Place. We had gathered each of the past years since our father had passed away, but this was the first year that my mother, the last of that generation, was no longer around. My brothers and sister and I all lead very different lives, and were scattered about the country with our own families and jobs to keep us apart; this was one of the only times when we were all a big happy family again.
My family's flight was delayed, so as we pulled up in our rental car, we were the last group to arrive. The preparations were in full swing, and I could smell the turkey wafting from the kitchen, as I opened my door. We had hardly gotten out when we were wrapped in many warm embraces welcoming us home. We all exchanged our greetings, and my wife went to join the other women as they busied themselves with preparing the meal and catching up; my sister was pregnant again, so they had plenty to talk about. I retired to the back porch with my two brothers and brother-in-law, and sat down in a rocking chair with a sigh. My two youngest went off to find their cousins, but my eldest son followed me and sat cross-legged on the floor, craning forward, quietly and intently listening to the conversation. This was the first year that he was eager to grow up and find a place among the men. I thought I might tell him that adulthood was not so glamorous as he supposed, but I knew he would only understand that once it was too late.
As the sun began to sit lower in the sky, my youngest brother's wife called everyone in to dinner. It took little prodding to get the kids to all come in once they understood it was time to eat. The excited murmur grew louder as the whole group collected in the old dining room. We formed a circle around the long, wooden table as we held hands and I, the oldest, and now the head of the family, blessed the meal. When I finished, my wife instructed that we were serving oldest to youngest and that the kids would 'just have to wait'. Eventually, everyone had made it through the line and had filled their plates with the incredible spread of food.
As we gathered around the old table, the memories flowed as freely as the iced tea. We shared amusing anecdotes, revived old memories of our parents and childhood, and all around celebrated the years long passed. At a pause in the conversation, I looked down for a moment, over to the other table to check on the little ones. All my children and nieces and nephews were enjoying themselves - all except for my oldest son. While the others were enamored in child's banter, he gave me just the kind of look I remembered giving my dad when I was his age; his eyes sighed his protest of being relegated to the kid's table. He silently pleaded with me, almost as if to ask me why I was so intent on keeping him in the ignorance of childhood.
After the meal, everyone minded their overstuffed stomachs and reclined on the back porch of the old house. Overcome with nostalgia, I decided to break from the reclining group, and took a walk down to the cemetery where my aunts, uncles, mother, and father lay. I started off down the path that continued about a quarter mile through the woods. The autumn trees bowed over the walkway forming a canopy, while the cool, crisp air, which, carried by a soft breeze comforted me, and fostered a sense of timelessness as I walked alone thinking. Brown, brittle leaves fell carelessly in front of my path while my mind was off remembering. We used to walk this path together, as a family. For us, Thanksgiving is not only a time of celebration of family and blessings, but also a time to remember relatives long deceased and to enjoy the memories. My siblings and I would always cut up and lag behind the group, which would inspire disapproving looks from my mother. She felt that this was a very somber event – something I had no grasp of as a child.
I slowly approached the gate and I paused for a moment. It’s so still here, so quiet, so peaceful. I walked past rows of gravestones as I finally approached the site where my relatives lay. To many, visiting their relatives in a cemetery can be a sad experience; I however, was happy for them, because they still gathered together as they had before. I smiled as I remembered those times, when I was but a child and I could just barely see over the table. I could hear their talking and laughter again. How warm and familiar it all was! I remembered how laughter would erupt after my father told a good joke – he was always telling jokes. I could even smell the feast my mother and aunts would cook for us, and could almost feel them slapping my hand as I tried to sneak a piece of turkey before the meal. I remembered sitting at the smaller table with my cousins and siblings, feeling as if I were too old to sit at the kid's table. I remembered feeling left out, as if the adults kept some kind of grown-up secret from me. That same feeling I felt again, as I stood there seeing them all lying as they used to sit, in those two long rows. Although I had grown to be an adult, they still seemed to keep some secret from me, one that I was not to know of yet, one that I am not ready yet to learn.