“Over the river and through the wood, to grandfather’s house we go; the horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifted snow.”
--Lydia Marie Child, “Thanksgiving Day,” 1844
As I gather food requests from family members in anticipation of our Thanksgiving meal next week, I have been reminiscing. One delightful moment involved my dad’s youngest brother, known to all as “Uncle Ethan,” and a memory of him entering the front door of my childhood home, a pipe sticking out one side of his mouth and in his hands a large casserole. Always late, but never concerned, he entered that day with his usual bravado, singing out to those of us who had already gathered, “The horse knew the way, to carry our sleigh, through the bright and drifting snow...ho, ho!”
It is this memory that stands out, rather than any experience with a horse-drawn sleigh moving through a wood. After all, I grew up in a southern California beach community and saw eucalyptus trees and stands of palm trees outside my bedroom windows. If I imagined a trek to my grandmother’s house I envisioned rolling down the car windows to allow the east winds access to my long, blond hair as I drove along a road — tracing the base of the foothills that form the outer edge of my hometown. It was this route that took me to my maternal grandmother’s modest apartment on the other end of town where she lived and cooked and sewed in ways that demonstrated her love and devotion to my family.
Only during the last few years has this song grown in imagery and begun to move my emotions. That is because I can now look out my kitchen window and see a stand of trees at the edge of our wood. I picture my children when they were young, scampering through the trees with friends. Such a memory stirs deep within me the same kind of sentimentality created by cozying up to a wood stove or watching our yellow lab sniff the air or hearing geese fly over the house in formation.
I’m counting the days until my children and those they love make their way onto Whidbey Island to spend the holiday with family and friends, stepping away from crazy busy lives for some food, fun, love and relaxation.
Thanksgiving is about stopping and holding tightly to those you love. It’s about making the trip through the wood and practicing grace when uncles arrive late or a hurtful history causes discomfort between people gazing across the table at each other.
Like always, my family has requested green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes and a mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy to accompany the turkey and ham. What a joy it will be to see them gathered around the table and not counting carbs or calories for one day.
Most of all, next Thursday will be about enjoying the simple things — like napping, playing games, building a puzzle, watching movies and reheating leftovers hours after the main meal.
All this makes Thanksgiving one of the best holidays of them all.