Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Yeah, I know most folks would choose Christmas as their favorite, but not me. Namely, because I was a chubby kid, and we chubby kids preferred our holidays to center around cholesterol.
In my family, the ladies would get started preparing many days in advance for the big calorie party. You’d see females dusting countertops with flour, working tirelessly on butcher blocks, wielding surgically sharp cutlery, and threatening to neuter any male who came within fourteen feet of her range oven.
The house would be a symphony of chopping sounds, cabinets slamming, and the roar of Briggs & Stratton twelve-horsepower hand-mixers. Christmas simply could not compare.
At Thanksgiving the food spread was sinful enough to qualify for an R rating. We had heaps of refined carbohydrates, wads of saturated fat, volcanoes of gluten, and fruit pies that were completely obscured by Reddi Whip.
Whereas at Christmas all I got was khakis.
Our childhood home would also be inundated with loud family members. Sometimes there were people loitering in our house who I’d never even met.
“Come say hello to your cousin Hilda,” my mother would say, matting my hair with her own spit.
Cousin Hilda was ninety-four years old, a complete stranger to me, and she talked at length about the disruptive nature of kidney stones to anyone within earshot.
All day the walls of our little house would throb with the sounds of human voices. And even though our family was decidedly dysfunctional, it was pretty fun.
My uncle would sit on a sofa, reading the newspaper, sipping Pabst, yelling at his kids. He did this even though his kids were, for example, in their late forties.
Other uncles and male cousins would hang out in the driveway, trying to look masculine. This is a typical male activity at Thanksgiving—driveway standing.
Driveway standing is not a difficult sport to engage in. It goes like this: While one guy does something important, such as staring beneath the hood of his ‘77 Ford Pinto, other men stand at a distance with hands on hips, offering manly suggestions, and occasionally spitting. This is ninety-seven percent of being a man.
Unless you’re a teenage man. In which case, Thanksgiving Day is all about bottle rockets.
One year my cousin Ed Lee, brought a gym bag full of barely legal fireworks to our family celebration. I will never forget when he attempted to launch a bottle rocket from the waistband of his pants. My cousin had to eat dinner standing up that year.
The young female cousins were different animals altogether. They would clump together, apparently discussing matters of national security among themselves.
Girls were always so private. Which made us boys wonder: What the heck were they being so secretive about? Did they actually think we boys cared what they were discussing? Give me a break. We didn’t care. We had way more important things to worry about. So we eavesdropped.
Then it was time to eat.
We’d all gather around the table, and in that moment, you’d realize how messed-up your family was. Sometimes you’d look at your kinfolk, all gathered in one place, and you’d marvel at how you—the only normal person at the table—managed to spring from this malfunctioning group of walnuts.
“Look at these people,” you’d think to yourself. “They’re crazy.”
One of your uncles defined himself as a “serial monogamist.” One of your aunts kept adjusting the household thermostat to “meat locker” until everyone could see their breath vapor. One cousin had spent half the day on the phone with her boyfriend having a heated tele-argument.
But before food came the big prayer. The great equalizer. We all bowed our heads while the elder of our family folded his hands and tucked his knuckles beneath his nose.
First, we would engage in that incredibly corny family tradition wherein everyone takes turns naming things they’re thankful for. Nobody was very original during this little Joyce Brothers exercise.
Usually, everyone thanked God for the usual. Things like, “good food,” and “family.” But then some people actually surprised you and offered heartfelt thanks.“I’m thankful for my mom,” said one. “I’m grateful my daughter is out of ICU,” said another.
Then, the patriarch would pray aloud. And it would move you. Because until today you had never seen your cuckoo family as real people before.
So while the head of the family would utter prayers for all, including the souls who left us, and those who were sick among us, the air in the room would change.
Aunts would sniffle, uncles cleared throats, mothers blew noses loudly, and some of us dabbed our eyes. Because at this moment you somehow felt connected to something bigger than yourself.
Today was more than just a holiday, this was about something much deeper than food. Today was about understanding that even though you belonged to this messed-up group of humans, these were YOUR messed-up humans. And when everything goes wrong in life, sometimes these humans are the only ones you will have left.
By the time everyone said amen, you knew without a doubt that Christmas had nothing on Thanksgiving.
Lisa K Riley - November 25, 2021 6:21 am
I’m thankful for you, and your writing. It’s pulled me through a pretty bad spot this last month after my husband passed away.
I’m thankful for lots of other things too, but right now you and your writing are more important than a lot of them.
Liz - November 25, 2021 9:06 am
Lisa. I soo agree. Thanks for perfect words for our hero’s story of thanks. Just had to tell you. Oh, and I understand.
Lisa Barth - November 25, 2021 6:38 am
Yes! I love Thanksgiving. Family, friends, food. My favorite holiday. 🦃🍁🥔🍗🥧🥐🌽🦃!
Melissa Armstrong - November 25, 2021 6:49 am
I’m thankful for you, Sean, whose words entertain me. Laughter really is good medicine and memories resurrected bring a sense of peace and belonging. Remind me someday to share my memories with you. They could keep you writing for a hundred more years. Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃
Sandi. - November 25, 2021 11:08 am
Sean & Jamie, hope y’all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Despite all the unwanted problems in the world today, we all have so much for which to be grateful.
HH - November 25, 2021 11:14 am
You left out the Dallas-Detroit football game, but you were spot on otherwise 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, all of you.
Diane Freeman - November 25, 2021 11:58 am
Sean, you are my dessert with my first cup of coffee every morning. Thank you for sharing your gift. Happy Thanksgiving.
Marilyn Vance - November 25, 2021 12:14 pm
In our family, when my grandparents were still alive, after the driveway standing, the barn ‘sipping’, the loud talking where everybody knew what everybody else said, the plates filled and eaten……..then, we would gather ’round the piano and sing! What a sweet time we had…thanks for the memories, Sean!
Kate - November 25, 2021 12:22 pm
I read your column this morning about 2:30 am because I could not sleep. I am so thankful for so many things and especially that a friend recommend that I read you each morning. You have a way with words that help heal us, make us laugh, cause us to remember, tell us we are not alone, and make us grateful. Thank you Sean and Jamie for giving us so much.
Al Cato - November 25, 2021 12:23 pm
Happy Thanksgiving! As I read, a memory appeared in my mind’s eye. Our dining room table with all the leaves added chocked full of food. Several card tables erected to hold the overflow! Aromas abound and cause mouth watering and stomach growling. Relatives, neighbors, the family preacher and family, kids, lots of kids, of all ages, and my mother in the kitchen, a tiny kitchen, turning out food by the pound. Finally, the Blessing was said. Plates were filled. We went into the family room where more card tables were standing. The 21 inch Magnavox TV was turned on for the football game and all was right with the world! Thank you Sean. Hadn’t thought about those days some 50-60 years ago.
Bob E - November 25, 2021 12:47 pm
On this special day I’m thankful for many things – not the least of which is Sean’s unique sense of humor and his skillful down-to-earth reporting style.
Thank you for each day’s offering.
Cheryl Andrews - November 25, 2021 1:16 pm
Thank you for always lifting my day. You have wonderful Thanksgiving!
Mac Petty - November 25, 2021 1:16 pm
Our thoughts and prayers are for you and Jamie today and your first Thanksgiving without Miss Mary. I know you are thankful to know she is living her great reward in Heaven. We are thankful that you have been letting us into your lives for many years now. God bless you and Jamie!
Lynette Wedig - November 25, 2021 1:19 pm
Paul McCutchen - November 25, 2021 1:35 pm
After the prayer my mom would go and sit at the children’s table. That was her custom, she even sat with the grand kids now the great grand kids. She always said they only required extra dessert and would talk for ever. Could have been the extra pie.
Have a great holiday Sean
Jay - November 25, 2021 1:48 pm
Sean, your best ever!!!!! You have described my West-GA roots to a T. Well, except for the step-kids who started showing up after a couple of folks got divorces & married into ready-made families. Oh, the fear in the eyes of these new “cousins” getting their first glimpse of their new family members. Most were kind enough to remain speechless during the ordeal. We actually had one thing perhaps no other family had – we called him “the statue.” He was an uncle – a carpenter – from the north GA mountains who always began preparing for the event at least 2 weeks in advance. By preparing I’m referring to a constant sipping of what he referred to as “medicine” but was actually the finest peach brandy on earth [according to him, Dad, and several experienced taster-uncles). Someone would have to bring him AND take him home afterwards because he was totally unfit to drive, speak, or stay awake. By the time we arrived, he was always well medicated and unable to stand or say words that were understandable. So, we just let him sit in a corner, out of the way. We nephews & nieces secretly referred to him as “the statue.” Couldn’t say that around the adults because they protected him. The statue always missed every bite of the good food and was always still there “sleeping it off” when everyone left. His sister would drive him home in a few days after he began to “feel better.” Betcha didn’t have a family statue did you?
Keem ’em coming man. Priceless.
Ruth Mitchell - November 25, 2021 2:26 pm
What a great way for me to start my Thanksgiving Day! I don’t know how you do it, but you seem to know the human heart of all of us. It’s so easy to recognize my life through your words. Thank you for validating my shortcomings (and those of my dysfunctional family) as simply being human. I hope you have a great day and enjoy your calories as much as I will mine!
jstephenw - November 25, 2021 3:01 pm
Thank you Sean once again. You and Jamie are a blessing. Tell Jamie her Greenwood SC fan club is doing well. Enjoyed your piece on my town of Greenville,SC. Peace and joy to you guys during these holidays.
Babs - November 25, 2021 3:13 pm
Bless you, happy Thanksgiving
Lucinda Harding - November 25, 2021 3:32 pm
Happy Thanksgiving Sean and Jamie. Sean, your stories are one of my daily blessings.
TONJA WILDER - November 25, 2021 3:38 pm
Suellen - November 25, 2021 3:38 pm
I think we all can relate to the dysfunctional family but I didn’t realize it when I was growing up. It’s just what it was. My Dad had been a German POW. My Mom’s 2 brothers were alcoholics from being trapped in ships in Pearl Harbor so we either had no emotions or too many emotions. We all loved each other though and had the best times together. I would give anything to go back to those days. Today I’m so excited to be back home and having my youngest daughter and her family for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Three out of my four children will be here. I’m saying children but they’re all in their 40’s now. The grandkids can begin their memories of their own dysfunctional family. I’m afraid I probably own the title of the craziest but it is what it is. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you Sean and Jamie and to all in this online community that you have built.
Chasity Davis Ritter - November 25, 2021 3:46 pm
Happy thanksgiving day Sean. Man I pictured every bit of this only it was at my Grandpas house when I was younger. All these things exactly as you said. And now we still do it just about wherever we end up spending the day. I know your house has a sad with the one who is missing today. It’s my fourth one without my dad. How does it go so fast? But we go on. We remember them. We eat food and watch parades and football and have Turkey comas. We try to be thankful and tomorrow we will run over people for cheap crap at wmrt. But yes. Christmas has NOTHING on thanksgiving day!!! Thanks for spending a few minutes of yours with me!
Susie Flick - November 25, 2021 5:00 pm
Thankful every day and more thankful to have all the memories of so many years of Thanksgivings…here, there and everywhere. Sometimes it was to my grandparents farm or my one aunt’s house or drive to GA from IL for a wedding (25 years ago) to have a huge Thanksgiving feast with relatives, in-laws and outlaws the day before the wedding at the house of the bride(niece) and her husband to be. Brave souls.
My immediate family had “Friendsgiving” last Sat and are in KY with friends this year. I am going to a friend’s sisters today and being “brave” and taking my own bottle of wine!
Grateful every day that I get to read your words of honest wisdom. Thanksgiving Blessings to you and Jamie.
Bev London - November 25, 2021 6:32 pm
Thankful for you and your early-morning missives. I’m a little late today, but find your message has become an important part of my crazy day. My day is not complete without it!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
Stacey Wallace - November 25, 2021 7:05 pm
Happy Thanksgiving! Love to you and Jamie!
Linda Moon - November 25, 2021 7:26 pm
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too. Fun and dysfunctional in our family is pretty, and I love looking at my pretty people. Your last sentence in this here post could’ve come from me, but I’m not an accomplished writer. I’m just a thankful reader, Sean of the South, who loves my messed-up folks. A lot.
MAM - November 25, 2021 7:49 pm
We are missing family this year. None could join us, but we WILL have way too much food that will last for days of left-overs. So that’s a bonus. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this and especially to Sean and Jamie. My personal thanks go to Sean for his always spot on words of the day!
Gigi - November 25, 2021 8:07 pm
Amen! Thanksgiving is by far the best holiday, but it has become the most underrated and almost lost- a footnote on the calendar between Halloween and Christmas. Maybe because retailers don’t make as much money off gratitude?? Thankful for a lot this year and your daily postings make the list.💜
Karen Snyder - November 26, 2021 1:51 am
Thankful for many things, not the least of which are the beautiful memories you manage to stir up nearly every day. Hope you needed to let your belt out a notch after dinner. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Jamie. 🧡🦃
Patricia Gibson - November 26, 2021 3:02 pm
You are so right!
Bill E. - November 26, 2021 4:27 pm
Other uncles and male cousins would hang out in the driveway, trying to look masculine. This is a typical male activity at Thanksgiving—driveway standing.—–I never heard of this before
Edna - November 27, 2021 3:57 pm
This is a great description of most Thanksgiving family events I have been to over the years.