July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:09 PM
"As the last child in a family of 10 kids, Thanksgiving was a memorable, chaotic event.Joanie returned to my parents' Tacoma home from Salem, Ore., where she worked as a nurse. Terry was over in Vietnam, as a member of the Green Berets. We said prayers for Terry.Ed, sporting the long hair of a hippy (much to the chagrin of my dad), came home from the University of Oregon. Maureen drove down from Western Washington University, Marian from Eastern Washington University, Suzanne from Gonzaga. John and Tom were in high school - John at Stadium, Tom at Bellarmine. Margi and I were in grade school.Joanie brought her husband Bill and baby daughter Adrian. Ed brought his wife Karen. Maureen and Marian's boyfriends dropped by for a visit. Suzanne talked on the phone to her boyfriend Chris, who went to Gonzaga with her and was down at his family's house in Los Angeles for the holiday. (Suzanne and Chris would get married in four years, settle in Spokane and raise two kids.)Aunt Margi, my mom's sister, arrived from Walla Walla. Margi's husband Tom had died recently and she was a widow. Aunt Margi and my dad didn't always get along, so it was a good idea to walk on eggshells around them.Football games played on the television: the Roger Staubach-led Dallas Cowboys vs. somebody, the Detroit Lions vs. somebody else. This inspired Ed, John, Tom and myself to go outside and throw the football. I was the youngest of this quartet by six years, so I teamed up with the oldest, Ed, against Johnny and Tommy. These games involved silently drawing pass routes with an index fingers on the palm of the other hand, a stealthy form of communication that kept the opposition from knowing your plans.Daylight started to fade, so we headed inside. The smell of the Thanksgiving meal was thick in the house. A basted turkey. Freshly-baked rolls. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Baked yams. Green beans. Weird jello creations. Cranberry sauce. Apple and pumpkin pies. And on and on.The chaos of the house started to fade as the focus shifted to serving the meal. The fancy china was unwrapped, the silver place settings unboxed, the extra leaf inserted in the dining room table (it would still be a tight fit for everyone, 15 of us in all.)The turkey was pulled from the oven, placed on a platter and set at the head of the table. My dad pulled the carving fork, knife and sharpener from a drawer. I still hear the ring of the turkey knife as he sharpens it. It was the sound of dinner almost served.To bring a big family together for a large holiday meal is kind of like trying to align the planets. The momentum of each family member's life is so strong that the house you've grown up in together can barely contain all of it. But here you are together once again. The television is turned off. Someone is nominated to say grace. Plates are passed to the head of the table, where dad serves the steaming turkey. Dishes of food make the rounds, and the buzz of conversation rises.Believe me, there's chaos in a big family. But there's also love, lots of it. On this Thanksgiving, that's what I'm thankful for. "