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Sharon Randall: Giving thanks for gift of family and friends

By Sharon Randall
Scripps Howard News Service
Traditions are like the people who try to keep them: Sooner or later, like it or not, they change.
Growing up, I spent most Thanksgivings at the home of my grandparents eating ham (not turkey), green beans (not broccoli), candied yams (not mashed potatoes), pecan pie (not pumpkin, and never apple) and chasing my squirrelly cousins around the house.
Once a week or so, my mother and her mother would have a big falling-out and stop speaking to each other, a sticky situation that my granddad described as the social equivalent of a fistfight in an outhouse.
If the falling-out fell near a holiday, my mother would refuse to show up for the family gathering. Weíd either stay home or, worse, go have dinner with my stepfatherís mother (who looked just like my stepfather in a flowered dress) and his other kin, who were decent enough people, but different.
I didnít want different. On holidays, I wanted everything and everybody to stay the same. But I couldnít wait to change all the other days of the year.
Growing up is a tug-of-war between the old and the new, the familiar and the strange, the safety of home and the lure of what lies beyond the horizon.
At 19, when I left my family in the South to spend all my days in California, I didnít realize that would also mean holidays.
Every Thanksgiving Iíd call my mother long distance and get an earful of what I had missed. By then, my grandmother had gone to her ěreward.î
They werenít fighting anymore, but they still werenít speaking much, either.
ěIf I could have her back for just one day,î my mother said, ěthings would be different.î
Different? Really? What do you think? Given a second chance, would things have been better between them?
Would they have chosen their battles more carefully? Laughed harder and argued less?
If they had realized their days together were numbered, would they have been slower to take offense and quicker to offer grace?
Sometimes we treat people we love like the Jello salad at Thanksgiving dinner. Itís easy to take them for granted.
We donít miss them until theyíre gone.
My traditions, like my life, have changed over the years. I suspect yours might have, too.
When my children were growing up, we celebrated the holidays with their dadís family. After he died, we began staying home, or rather, I stayed and the kids came to me.
We invited friends to join us, and pretty soon Thanksgiving turned into a great big, two-turkey wingding.
Years later, when I remarried, my new husband pitched in with cooking and carving and cleanup. His two boys joined us, and the celebration kept growing.
Then a job change moved us to another state, and once again, our traditions changed.
This year weíll gather at the home of my youngest and his wife and their 15-month-old, whoís about the size of one of the turkeys I’ll stuff.
Joining us will be the newest addition to the family: My 2-month-old grandson, whoís about the size of the Jello salad his mother insists I have to make.
It will be different in some ways from every Thanksgiving I have known, but this much, at least, will remain the same.
I will set two tables for all the people I hold dear: One in the dining room for those whoíll be with me; and one in my heart for those who will not.
Iíll eat too much, laugh too loud and count my blessings, giving thanks for the gift of family and friends and the awareness of numbered days.
To you and yours from me and mine, happy Thanksgiving.

Contact Sharon Randall at www.sharonrandall.com.

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