Readers share Thanksgiving thoughts, memories

Editor’s Note — This year, The Times-Gazette asked readers to send in their holiday anecdotes. To celebrate Thanksgiving, we have several stories about others’ Thanksgiving traditions and memories. The following are Thanksgiving-themed stories written and submitted by readers. Other stories already submitted will be published around Christmas and New Year’s:

Allyson Sutphin, Buffalo, N.Y.

I’ve spent a lot of Thanksgiving holidays in a lot of different places.

I’ve struggled with mental and physical health issues for a lot of my life, which has led me to seek treatment out of state on a bunch of occasions. The first Thanksgiving I spent away from home was when I was 15. I was sent out of my home state, Ohio, to spend a few years at a therapeutic boarding school for kids with mental health and learning issues. I was young, so it was very strange to spend the holidays away from home, but I was able to get close with the other students and staff, which made the holiday special in its own way.

The next Thanksgiving I spent away from family was when I was 20. I was at a residential treatment center trying to recover from anorexia. The eating disorder made the holiday difficult enough, but being away from my loved ones made it even more challenging. I explained it away to myself by saying I was doing what was best for my health.

In 2018, I spent Thanksgiving alone while making smallpox blanket jokes alone in my apartment. I had decided I would have rather spent the holiday alone than with a family that treated me poorly.

This year, I’m planning to spend the holiday in Delaware with my roommate’s family. It will still be strange, but it’s better than being alone, or in bad company.

The holidays aren’t about having the most ideal picture-perfect situation like in the Hallmark movies. To me, it’s about making the best of where you are in your life and loving those who want to spend it with you. You can have a good holiday anywhere with anyone as long as you are safe, healthy and loved — even if it’s just you loving yourself. Safety and happiness are the point, not perfection.

Sharon Hughes, Hillsboro

I remember my mother would work so hard getting all the preparations for our Thanksgiving day meal, telling all of us to make sure to invite everyone that did not have a place to go. She did not want anyone going without a Thanksgiving day dinner. My father and late husband would deliver to those that could not get out. This year make sure to check on your neighbors to make sure they have a place to go this Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends giving thanks for all of God’s blessings.

Ann Runyon-Elam, Hillsboro

I really don’t want to sound like one of those “back in my day” kind of people, but I really do miss the good times when family got together for Thanksgiving. You sat at the table, said a prayer, and then dug into grandma’s homemade noodles, real mashed potatoes — lumps and all — and turkey so tender it fell straight off the bone.

To me it seems once the grandparents are gone traditions seem to change, and I think that’s sad. But I love the memories that pop into my head when the holidays come around.

Greg Howard, South Bend, Ind.

It really doesn’t make sense for Native Americans to practice Thanksgiving. I’m a citizen of the Pokagon band of the Potawatomi tribe, which essentially spanned between Chicago and Cleveland. I’m not as deep into the culture as a lot of other people are, but I’m learning a lot and doing my best to continue learning.

Growing up in Ohio and not being close enough to the tribe to get involved, I never learned a whole lot about our culture and our traditions. My family always had Thanksgiving dinner, and in school I learned the same dumb stories that everyone learns in school about Thanksgiving. I never really felt connected to Thanksgiving in the first place, but now that I’m up here, and I’m getting closer to our culture, I feel Thanksgiving’s even less important to me. Aside from what I’ve learned with the tribe, I was reading a New York Times article last week that talks about how the first Thanksgiving dinner actually would’ve gone, and it’s not even realistic that they would’ve been eating turkey. The Thanksgiving story we’re told as little kids is just entirely not true. Thanksgiving wasn’t even celebrated until recently, as far as the history of the U.S. goes.

I don’t even know if we [the Potawatomi] have any traditions for this time of year. During the seasonal ceremonies, we always put out a plate of food for the spirits and invite the spirits in to participate in the ceremonies. One of my coworkers, who is also a tribal citizen, mentioned there is a communitywide feast that kind of goes off a tradition we have where. I think it’s one year after a person passes away, you’re supposed to leave out a plate for them, so we’ve kind of combined that into a yearly feast for the community.

Pretty much the only reason I pay attention to Thanksgiving is because my mom likes it, and I like seeing my family. We do still have a lot of the traditional American Thanksgiving food, like turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, but I’ve talked to my mom about trying to get away from that a little bit, like having venison and wild rice for our Thanksgiving dinner next year because that would make a lot more sense. My mom and stepdad both hunt, so we pretty much always have venison. It’s not like venison is a delicacy for us or anything. It’s just already available to us, and we don’t have to go out and buy things for it.

Thanksgiving really, to me, is just about spending time with family and an excuse to eat a lot.

McKenzie Caldwell, Leesburg

Though my childhood, like many others, was full of paper pilgrim hats and smiling pilgrims and Native Americans, that isn’t — and absolutely never was — what Thanksgiving is about. Once you get past the genocide and pilgrim egotism that these images cover up, you get into the real Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving that’s about spending time together and sharing a meal. It’s not really that flashy, which is probably why stores like Walmart jump directly from Halloween to Christmas, but it’s always been my second favorite holiday.

Though I loved all my family’s Thanksgiving traditions as a kid, the holiday gained more meaning once I went off to college. It was wild to come back from school and still participate in those traditions while I felt like a stranger in my own house. At the beginning of the Thanksgiving week, my mom always sets a loaf of bread out for my brother and me to tear up for her homemade dressing. On Thanksgiving eve, I prepare my contribution: cranberries, oranges, pineapple and walnuts ran through a food processor until smooth and then frozen. When I first started making it as a little kid, I used a tiny food chopper and made it in small batches, which I would mix together in the same container once it was all the consistency I wanted. Every now and then, I also make a pecan pie, though the first Thanksgiving I made it, my little brother — who was about 4 at the time — dared me to flip the pie over, and for some reason, I listened. The pie fell out of the tin and, luckily, landed on the table. I squished it back in. It still tasted fine.

The real MVP of Thanksgiving at my house, though, is my mom. Like other moms, she too is extremely overworked on Thanksgiving, though lately my dad has been handling the turkey. She always turns on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in the morning and leaves it running while she runs through her Thanksgiving routine. My favorite part when I was younger was “helping” my mom prepare the food, but now it’s just hanging out with my family and chatting. We always end up fasting until Thanksgiving dinner, nibbling at the cheese and veggie trays here and there and going hard at dinner. Then my dad turns on whatever football game is playing, and we all nap.

This is my first Thanksgiving as a “real adult,” but I know when I go home tonight, the beginning of the Thanksgiving week, the loaf of bread will be waiting on the counter for my now-teenage brother and me to tear up for Mom’s dressing. Thanksgiving doesn’t just have to be about spending time with the people you’re related to, but after so desperately wanting to find my own identity and spending four years away from them, I realized that I truly missed my parents and my brother. Though I fought against the idea of moving back home after college for so long, I’m so thankful for the time I get to spend with the people I care about — every day, not just on Thanksgiving. I’m doing everything I can to savor the time I spend with them now.

Highland County children colored and submitted turkeys, which appear in the Thanksgiving edition of The Times-Gazette. County children colored and submitted turkeys, which appear in the Thanksgiving edition of The Times-Gazette. McKenzie Caldwell | The Times-Gazette

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