I grew up in a Lutheran family in southern California. My dad and grandparents are originally from Minnesota so you could say I have returned to my roots. My grandma was, and at 94 is, the spiritual head of the family. She is quite devout and one of the most kind-hearted and generous people I have ever been privileged to know. No one ever wants to disappoint Grandma in anything, but especially when it comes to faith.
So my sister and I grew up attending Sunday school and church even when neither of us really believed any longer. Even my mom converted to Lutheran church from her Southern Baptist roots. The only one who was able to stand firm against Grandma’s faith was Grandpa who was–gasp!–Catholic. But perhaps even Grandpa conceded in a way because he never went to mass nor did he or anyone ever speak of his being Catholic.
So when it came to meals, especially family holiday meals, the saying of grace was a never to be overlooked element. For some reason the task of saying grace belonged to me and my sister. Once all the food was on the table and everyone had sat down, my mom and grandma would look at me and my sister and say, “Girls.” That was our cue; we were on and we had it down to a fine tuned performance.
It was always the same prayer and we could say it in perfect unison. We’d been saying it for so long that we had refined it to a sing-song rhythm and could match it to whatever the dinner occasion called for. Thanksgiving required a bit of solemnity (unlike nightly meals with just our parents where we would rush through it so we could hurry up and eat), so we would slow our recitation so no adult could accuse us of making light.
Everyone would fold their hands and bow their heads. My sister and I, unable to see each other, would pause a moment, take a deep breath, with which we would make it through the whole prayer, and we’d be off. Whoever began first would hold the first syllable of “God” just long enough for the other to meet and match it:
God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.
Grandma would chime in with an amen of her own. There would be a brief pause of respect, and the table would break out in a frenzy as everyone began passing serving dishes around, helping themselves to a little spoonful of this and a big spoonful of that.
Dinner was always basically the same. Turkey carved by my dad and grandpa (now just my dad since Grandpa died). Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberries (the jellied kind from the can), candied yams with marshmallows on top, a fruit salad that had maraschino cherries and sometimes little marshmallows and sometimes not depending on who made it, corn and dinner rolls. There were always a few other side dishes depending on the guests and what they contributed. The adults would drink wine and my sister and I would get sparkling apple cider. For dessert, there was always pumpkin pie and apple pie with the option of cool whip topping or ice cream.
Today my parents, sister, Grandma, aunt, and two cousins will be gathering at my parents’ house for a meal that by all reports, remains pretty much the same. My sister will say the same prayer we said together as kids. Everyone will eat too much but somehow still have room for pie. My mom will call me after the dinner and I will get to say hi to everyone. I will tell them how cold it is here and they will tell me how warm it is there. They will ask if I had enchiladas and pumpkin pie. I will ask if they enjoyed their turkey. Words of love will be exchanged and I will hang up the phone and sigh, missing those childhood Thanksgivings but feeling blessed with their memories. And thankful. Ever so thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Be sure to stop by Cam’s for a virtual Thanksgiving feast.