Give Thanks for Traditions

This photo is me with my wonderful Aunt Rose at the 2007 Irish-Italian parade in New Orleans, a day that will forever live in my memory as one of the very most fun times ever. I’ll tell you about it one day.

Aunt Rose was my godmother and my father’s younger sister. She passed away last February after a long illness, leaving behind my devoted Uncle Chris and a very quiet space that was once filled with her larger-than-life, zany energy. You can tell by our photo that she was a fun-loving person, can’t you? Although living in Savannah prevented me from seeing her often, I shared a sweet bond with my aunt. When I visited my family in July to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday, naturally she wasn’t there. That empty place was punctuated by my uncle’s aching sadness. She is deeply missed by us all.

Traditions give us something to cling to when the world turns upside down

Like most families, we have our traditions. One of them has been gathering for Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt Rose’s house. Mom and Dad were surprised a few weeks ago when Uncle Chris announced that he wanted to host this year’s feast. Aunt Rose would be proud.

Mirliton, aka chayote

Traditions give us something to cling to when the world turns upside down. No matter what the stock market is doing or who’s dating whom, there are certain things you can count on, like the fact that Christmas dinner will be at Mom’s house, and she always makes the baked macaroni and the stuffed mirlitons. (Outside Louisiana, these odd, pear-shaped squash are called chayote.) And that’s a good thing, because Mom’s baked mac is oozy and delectable, and her stuffed mirlitons – heavenly!

But life is never static. Ready or not, like it or not, it’s always evolving, and we see it in our family gatherings. Children grow up, get married and there are new faces at the table. Some, like me, move away and start their own traditions. The years go by and our elders are no longer with us. Everything changes. Only the love remains.

This Thanksgiving, Ret and I are on our own. Our children are living in different parts of the country – Kevin and Jared are in Seattle, and Cameron is in Memphis – and this is the first holiday when we won’t be seeing any of them. They’ve all shared their plans with us and it’s fun to think of them in their own kitchens, preparing their versions of Thanksgiving dinner. Kevin called my mom for her stuffed mirliton recipe. The tradition will go on!

Jared, whipping up a pan sauce

It’s exciting to start a new tradition, one that’s rooted in the person I am and the life I have now

Meanwhile in Savannah, I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – sparing the turkey. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for years, but I’ve always tried to serve a more traditional meal to please everyone else at the table. (There was one famous meltdown a few years ago when none of the guys seemed to know how to carve the turkey, and I had to do it. Not pretty.) Thankfully Ret, who is an omnivore, is usually happy to eat like me when we’re at home. So today I’m cooking a spicy stew with butternut squash, corn and beans; green chili corn muffins; mustard-glazed green beans; and a pear, apple and cranberry cobbler for dessert. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It’s exciting to start a new tradition, one that’s rooted in the person I am and the life I have now.

This is huge. The holidays of my childhood were always big, noisy affairs involving lots of people. Moving to Savannah in 1988 changed all that for me, and I hated it. I spent a lot of years in my old life feeling miserable during the holidays, wallowing in homesickness for my family in New Orleans, wanting things to be different and wishing I were somewhere else. And I could be feeling that way now, missing the boys and failing to appreciate what’s good about my life today.

As long as the love remains

While I do miss our sons – a lot – I’m thankful that they’re healthy, happy and blooming where they’re planted. And I’m glad my Uncle Chris is surrounded by love on his first Thanksgiving without Aunt Rose. Ret and I enjoyed a quiet, low-key day with our pets, cooking together, watching football, and chatting with the fam on the phone.

The most important tradition is sharing love. It’s okay to change your menu, your locale and your company at the table, as long as the love remains.

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