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“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted sno-o-o-ow.”

When I was young we had weekly music classes at our school, and art classes, too! We learned all the old standard American songs and the one above was the tradition for Thanksgiving. We might not have sleighs anymore – I’m not that old! – but we did have grandmothers and woods and snow.

Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey was an honor and responsibility reserved for the older generation in the family. Thanksgiving dinner was usually a large one because all of the parents and aunts and uncles would come with their children. Every year the same menu would be served, except when a marriage brought an ‘outsider’ into the fold who brought a side dish we all would view with suspicion.

After dinner the boys would go outside to test each other’s physical prowess, the men would turn on the football games and smoke cigars, the girls and women would clear the table and make a start on a formidable pile of dishes while gossiping about absent family members and neighbors.

In the 60’s and 70’s as more children went to college, got smart and followed jobs out of town, the family gatherings seem to get smaller and smaller. Extended families were replaced by nuclear families. There were fewer places laid at the table and smaller turkeys roasted until now the grocery stores sell ready-to-go Thanksgiving dinners or turkeys comprised of only a breast and leg.

Another thing that has changed is the Thanksgiving table. At how many tables is grace actually said now? How many blessing are acknowledged and enumerated for all to hear? Are we really grateful for anything other than the end of the meal – so we can go shopping or watch football? Why has it become strange to sit around the table at the end of the meal and just talk?

Is it because everyone is playing some long-running role that we play every time we get together? Is it because we do not feel we can ‘be ourselves’ in this room full of relatives? Is it because we expect too much from our families? More than they can give.

If we no longer share some of our family’s beliefs or viewpoints, the dining room table can become a combat zone. It is a favorite location for making sweeping announcements – we come out of the closet or announce impending (undesirable) marriages, switch political parties, join cults that require unquestioning obedience, leave the law firm and decide to become an actor.

We make our announcements and then want validation, approval, acceptance. When we don’t get it, we get angry and say nobody understands us. When they don’t agree with us we accuse them of being short-sighted, small-minded, prejudiced or without vision.

Who says they have to understand us? Just because we may be related doesn’t mean they have to support and agree with everything we do. When was the last time we understood, accepted and validated them? What we are really asking for is unconditional love and approval – and most of the time that just ain’t gonna’ happen in this world unless we happen to be related to a bunch of saints.

‘Being ourselves’ is one of the hardest things to do in a family. It seems easier to be cool or wise or enlightened or spiritual when we are with friends or acquaintances. They didn’t know us ‘when’, they don’t know of our bad choices, stupid mistakes, dark secrets, and may not have any long-term investment in our lives.

Perhaps we should just accept our relatives for who they are and leave the judgment and the need for approval behind. This Thanksgiving let’s focus on what we have to be grateful for. After all, in many homes will there be one less setting at the table because of death or illness. Perhaps this will be the last time we will be together with our grandparents, parents or siblings. We never know what the future holds. Let’s be grateful for today and what we have and who we share it with.

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