Today is Thanksgiving, 1963.  My family is spending the holiday at my grandparents’ house in Brooklyn.  My father and uncles are watching football on the black and white television in the basement and enjoying some anti-pasta.  My grandmother, mother, and aunts are cooking in the kitchen and setting the table in the dining room.  My older brothers and older cousins are in the living room, the boys are trying to impress the girls and the girls are acting like they don’t notice.  I am playing with my sister and young cousins on the porch while we watch my grandfather read his Italian newspaper with his box of snuff by his side.  I can hear my baby brother crying in the bedroom because he has just woken up from a nap.  The house is full of sounds and aromas.  We are all together.

Today is Thanksgiving, 1973.  My family is spending the holiday at my parents’ house on Long Island. My father is watching football on the television in the living room munching on some chestnuts.  My mother is cooking in the kitchen while my sister and I set the table.  The anti-pasta is placed in the center.  My younger brother is hiding a cassette recorder under the table in his attempt to catch some dinner conversation without any of us being aware of the recording.  My older brother is with his wife’s family.  My oldest brother is far from home with a young family of his own.

Today is Thanksgiving, 1983.  My family is spending the holiday at my mother’s house.  My father’s seat is empty.  He passed away several years ago.  My older brother and his wife and my sister and her husband come over with their children.  My little nephews add new life to our family.  The men sit in the living room and watch football on the television.  The women are cooking in the kitchen and I set the table.  My older brother is sitting at the table eating some anti-pasta.  My oldest brother is, once again, far away with his own family.  There are some funny jokes during the day that make us all laugh.  There was the one when my sister found a bag of giblets inside the thawed turkey and thought it was a baby, there was the one about the cheesecake that my mom made (let’s just say it was a little heavy), and I think there was another about something that had turned bad but my brother-in-law started to eat it anyway because he didn’t want to say anything.  The family is changing.

Today is Thanksgiving, 1991.  My family is spending the holiday at my mother’s house, but I am not there.  My older brother and I are not speaking.  So I spend the day with my husband’s family at his grandmother’s house in Queens.  My husband’s father and uncles are watching the football game on the television in the living room while they sample some sausage pie.  His grandmother, mother and aunts are cooking in the kitchen.  I help his cousins set the table.  The house is full of people.  After dinner my baby daughter is passed from hand to hand around the living room as we all sing to the sounds of the player-piano.  I love this family, but I miss my own.

Today is Thanksgiving, 2003.  My family is spending the holiday at my mother’s house, but now it belongs to my younger brother.  My younger brother, brother-in-law, nephews, and husband watch the football game in the living room.  My sisters-in-law are cooking in the kitchen.  My sister and I set the table as my mother and older brother taste some anti-pasta while they wait for the main meal.  My children and the younger cousins are playing downstairs in my mother’s apartment.  My oldest brother is still far from home but we speak to him on the telephone.  I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  I have reconciled with my older brother and I have survived an illness that had brought me within breaths of death.  I now understand the full meaning of being thankful on this holiday.

Today is Thanksgiving, 2013.  My family is spending the holiday, each at their own house, with their own families.  My mother is with one of us, but her memory is fading.  Someone reminds her of the Thanksgivings we used to have in Brooklyn and she smiles when she recalls a precious memory that is still there.  I spend this holiday at the home of our dear friends.  There are seats empty at their table too.  Together, we try to fill the empty seats.  The men are in the living room watching the football game while eating anti-pasta.  My mother-in-law chats with my friend’s parents.  My friend is cooking in the kitchen.  Her daughter and my son are watching television downstairs and catching up on their lives now that one of them is home from college for the holiday.  My daughter is far away from home, but spending the day with my husband’s sister and her family.  I look around at how “family” has changed over the years.  I’m thankful for past Thanksgivings and I miss the people who are no longer here.  I stop for a moment to wonder about what changes will take place over the coming years.  Then I find my friend lifting out a 25 lb. turkey from her oven and ask her if I can set the table.   Author of The Tin Box Trilogy

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