Thanksgiving Dinner Scramble

This year, I am grateful I am not hosting the family feast.

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With the holidays fast approaching, there’s no avoiding the crush of relatives descending upon our homes, some welcome, others less so. After hosting Thanksgiving for 23 years, my wife and I are descending on my brother Glenn’s home. This past summer, he was showing us pictures of his expanded and renovated kitchen, and my wife, sensing an opportunity, said, “That’s a lovely kitchen. Let’s have family Thanksgiving at your house this year.” And so we are.

It’s 600 miles from our house in Indiana to my brother’s house in North Carolina, 18 hours round-trip, most of which I’ll spend sleeping while my wife, who loves to drive, is at the wheel. The woman is a marvel. When our son was in basic training, we drove straight through to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 850 miles in one day, to watch his promotion. She drove, and I navigated, reclining in the passenger seat, my head resting on a pillow, waking every four hours to fill the tank and empty the bladder. Six hundred miles is a walk in the park for my wife, a stroll across the street to visit the neighbors, whose relatives are descending on them this Thanksgiving — two adult daughters, two sons-in-law, and quite possibly a sister and aunt, plus three extra dogs, which will add considerably to the day’s events. Nothing improves a family dinner like good dogs.

While in North Carolina, I’ll officiate at my nephew’s wedding on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. I’ve not met his bride but have heard good report. I’m forgoing my customary premarital counseling sessions, having long suspected it doesn’t help anyway. Two people determined to marry pay little heed to a pastor’s advice. Sometimes when I marry someone, I’m not optimistic about the relationship, but I feel good about this one. I’ll feel even better if they pay for my gas to North Carolina.

When I was a kid, our relatives drove 120 miles north to my parents’ home in Danville, Indiana: two sets of grandparents, various aunts and uncles, and a passel of cousins, the adults at the fancy table in our dining room, the children in the kitchen at a long folding table which my mother called the “no-frills” table. I ate at the no-frills table until I was 44, when I was promoted to the fancy table after my Aunt Glenda died and a seat opened between my mother and Aunt Doris, who prayed so long the gravy scummed over.

If there is anything I miss about my childhood, it is my mother’s Thanksgiving gravy, a magic elixir, the recipe passed down from mother to daughter since the time of Jesus, who at a family wedding took water and blessed it and turned it into gravy just like my mother’s. Delicious turkey gravy, seasoned by turkey innards. Not only delectable, but curative. When my grandfather fell off a ladder while roofing his garage in 1965, he lay in a coma for nearly a week until my grandmother whipped up a batch of turkey gravy, which she rubbed on his lips, causing his brain to reboot. His eyes popped open, he ate the gravy, an entire bowl, and was good for another 34 years, until his death in 1999, opening a spot at the fancy table for my sister Chick, now the current guardian of the gravy recipe, given to us by our Lord.

It is a cause for thanks when one considers the delicate threads that bind us, one to the other, threads that might have torn but didn’t, and for that and other things, I am truly grateful.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series, featuring Sam Gardner.

This article is featured in the November/December 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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