Alexandria, VA – My memories of childhood Thanksgivings are nothing like Norman Rockwell’s illustrations. In truth, I can’t remember them. Because I have a famously poor memory, I consulted my younger sister. She remembers our mother waking at dawn to put the turkey in the oven. Even with that prompt, I don’t recall Thanksgivings at home. Since she’s almost 13 years younger and I left home when she was five or six, we likely had different experiences.
I next consulted my kids about their memories of Thanksgiving. The best they could come up with was drying the turkey wishbone on the kitchen light fixture and the boys fighting over who would have the larger half when they broke it. Legend has it that the wish of the one with the larger half would come true.
The good news is that Thanksgiving is now my favorite holiday.
To compensate for poor memory, I keep an almost daily journal. I searched my journal over the years for Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day 2000, I wrote, “I’ve been invited by Reverend Kenn Hurto (then minister of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church) to do a program on “United in the Spirit.” That was my 1995 photo-documentary study of worship in Alexandria’s predominantly African American churches.
I wrote, “I don’t know what I’ll say and I don’t know where the program will go but I have jotted down some thoughts on mindfulness and gratefulness.”
The thoughts I wrote: “We get fleeting notions of the miracles around us. If we could focus our attention on the miracle of life itself, we would never get off our knees from praying. We would each of us become monks, praying without cease. I read these words somewhere, but even though they impressed me greatly when I read them long ago, I don’t know who wrote them and my online digging hasn’t unearthed an answer.”
Musing further, I wrote, “I think each inch of this planet is a blooming miracle, teaming with life. We cordon off a part of it and say that part is sacred — this church, this mosque, this temple. We declare a room to be sacred, a sanctuary, and we try our best to remember the miracle while we’re in its confines.”
I still like those thoughts.
But getting back to Thanksgiving today, for the last 25 years, Thanksgiving has been a really good holiday for our family. Each of the children brings something to the feast. I like that not only because it’s less work for me but because each brings something uniquely themselves to the table.
What I want to say most about Thanksgiving is about tradition and how comforting it is for me to set up the house with enough seating for the number of people who will be there. I like using the familiar tableware. We were fairly poor when the kids were growing up. Our dishes were on sale, maybe from Safeway or Giant. Do you remember when there was a weekly special, a discount on a particular piece in a place setting? Those were our dishes.
The “silverware” came from various sources, most given to me. Nothing matched. I used to think that one day I would like to have something I picked out and all would match. And you know what, today it doesn’t matter a jot. Not one jot.
There is comfort in handling the same utensils year after year–the same pots and pans and plates, the same silverware and glassware. They’ve become old friends.
Most of all are the people ̶ family, old friends, and new. I feel a profound thankfulness every year about how my home welcomes and seems to embrace the people within it.
Those of you who have blessed me with your presence at my home know I turn down all offers to help me clean up or even carry things to the kitchen. For me, it’s a mindfulness practice. When everyone has gone home, I love touching each thing and being called to muse on how early people came to create spoons and forks, plates, and cups with handles. I remember the bounty in my life.
At my home, before we begin our meal, we almost always join hands in a circle and recite something like this:
“Sometimes we lose someone in our circle. Sometimes, we add someone to the circle. The important thing is that the circle of love endures. May we know peace at this table, may we know peace in this home, may we know peace in our world.”
Wishbone in my hand or not, I wish for you a place in the circle of love. May you know peace.
Mosaic artist-photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.