July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:09 PM
"Over the river and through the wood, To grandfather's house we'll go; The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh,Through the white and drifted snow. Lydia Marie Child Thanksgiving Day, 1844 I have known the words to Lydia Child°s song most of my life. In fact, I distinctly recall singing the chorus in elementary school. But for the first 30 years of my life the references to a wood and horse-drawn sleigh did not grab hold of me in any way. After all, I was a Southern California girl. I could imagine a grove of eucalyptus trees lining a baranca or a stand of palm trees, like the ones that line the streets of Santa Barbara. I could even anticipate rolling down the windows to allow the east wind's access to my long blond hair as I drove along a road that traced the base of the foothills, forming the outer edge of my hometown. It was this route that most directly took me to my grandmother°s modest apartment on the other end of town. If I stretched the limits of my imagination even further I could envision pulling into the driveway of my paternal grandparents° small farm in Ripley, Okla., surprising them for the holiday. That is because I had, in fact, spent one Christmas with them and enjoyed fond memories of going out to the edge of their small acreage to cut down a Christmas tree. But a horse-drawn sleigh? In the snow? Sliding among the trees? It has only been in the last decade that these words have grown in imagery and begun to move my emotions. That is because I can now look out my kitchen window and watch my brown-haired daughter, the one stirred by the smell and the manner of her horse, out there along the edge of the wood. I watch their heads frequently bend down, close together, as if planning their next ride. And while I cannot hear their whispers, I can see their breath, hanging in the heavy, still air of fall. Such a sight stirs deep within me a sentimentality that has everything to do with cozy wood fires, holiday traditions, and longing for a trip to their grandfather°s house. It is Thanksgiving, 2000, and like so many parents I have burned the midnight oil to clear my work desk so we could, as a family, head to grandfather°s (and grandmother°s!) house. The hurrying and packing and meeting of early deadlines kept me running this week. So did the laundry and setting up the animal sitters. Why go to all this trouble? a small voice inquired at least once. Go out to dinner and be done with it. Each time my resolve to leave faltered I began to hear the melody play in my heart. More than once I even caught my self quietly humming the song. I was reminded that Thanksgiving is about stopping and holding tightly to those you love. Making the trip through the wood. And anticipating. For me it is the dressing- chopping all those ingredients, then blending them with a big wooden spoon-that makes any kind of hurrying worth it all. I have to take small bites to test for moisture, don't you? I add small amounts of chicken broth as I go until it mooshes just right. It does not get much better than that for me. I am rather easy to please - except that I must use cornbread, homemade and dried in the oven. For my husband it is those canned fried onions that top the green bean casserole. It is simply not Thanksgiving without that American side dish with the cream of mushroom soup touched with a splash of Worcestershire sauce. It never is easy to pronounce that name brand correctly, but it sure makes the dish. The kids have their favorites as well. One loves freshly cooked cranberry sauce. She likes to stir the raw berries in the hot, sugary water and listen for the popping sounds they make when the skins split while cooking. Another must have heaps of mashed potatoes. The third thinks pumpkin pie, topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, is an absolute must. My mom prefers pecan pie, baked the way her mother baked it. My dad must have gravy - and lots of it that includes chopped boiled eggs and giblets. Most of all, it is going through the woods, anticipating along the way those simple moments of being together° - napping, playing games, reminiscing, watching movies, and reheating those left-overs time and again - that make Thanksgiving one of the best holidays of them all. I am most thankful.-----------Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and former editor of Christian books published by Gospel Light Publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "