The Thankful Habit

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. It’s always been an event for my extended family. Most of my mom’s siblings live in the same town, so it was natural to celebrate in the same place. At its zenith there were 25+ people attending, from grandparents to aunts/uncles to cousins to nieces/nephews.

In spite of (or maybe because of) the large crowd, Thanksgiving was always a casual and come-as-you-are affair. My mom is the oldest sibling and as such had the right of first refusal to host dinner, but occasionally her next in line sibling, Katie, hosted. In either case, the format was the same. Version 2Each family was responsible for some dish, which was mostly done but needed some final touches right before dinner was served. Families trickled in starting in late afternoon and the cookers did their thing in the kitchen. I was not a cooker. I was an eater.

My only real Thanksgiving responsibility was to gorge myself so that there weren’t too many leftovers. It was great! I came through in the clutch 100% of the time. There was nothing else I had to do or worry about. That is, until Katie threw a curveball in 1996.

1996 was supposed to be a great year for Thanksgiving. My cousin Nate and I had just entered college that autumn. We assumed that was old enough to openly drink beer at Thanksgiving. No one said anything, so it must have been cool. Naturally, we got more than half drunk before dinner was to be served. It was all going to my plan.

Katie called everyone together, I presumed to announce dinner was ready, hand-holdbut she wanted to do something different first. That year she started a new tradition. Everyone would hold hands and tell the group what they were thankful for.

Oh good grief, the perfect family tradition. It was so cliché. Why don’t we follow it up by gathering around the piano after we finish eating and sing Christmas carols and kumbaya?

WTF Katie?! I don’t do gratitude on command, especially as a public performance! I’m half drunk now! I can’t think of anything that I’m thankful for besides the fact that you and mom are conveniently ignoring that I’m half drunk. That’s not exactly the thing you want to announce in front of Grandma! Couldn’t you have at least given me a heads up about this change so I could think of something equal parts clever and sentimental to share? Barf…it was awful.

Fortunately, mom claimed seniority in 1997 and hosted Thanksgiving. We reverted back the old routine and omitted the 1996 ‘tradition’. Of course I made a point of informing Katie about that before dinner, because I was a snarky jackass (and half drunk). Being half drunk became a more enduring new Thanksgiving tradition.

Katie was none too pleased to hear about this, but what could she she do? Mom’s house; mom’s rules. It was a Free Zone, safe from forced public displays of gratitude. Even Grandma weighed in telling Katie that nobody liked telling everyone what we were thankful for last year.

This is still an unresolved issue that Katie and I continue to bump heads on at holiday get-togethers. I still don’t agree with the concept of publicly coerced displays of gratitude. I’m all for being thankful, but I prefer to do so in private. the-gratitude-journalKatie doesn’t know this because I haven’t told her (or much of anyone)…Until now.  I keep a gratitude journal. I list 3 things in my life I’m thankful for every day, without exception since September 9, 2013.

Why wait until Thanksgiving to be grateful? We should all appreciate what we have every day. It doesn’t have to a showy declaration. I still prefer to keep it private, but on this day of all days I will share it with you (and Katie):

November 24, 2016: I’m thankful…

  1. …to be back living in Chicago.
  2. …that I can easily travel home to Champaign for Thanksgiving to see my family in person
  3. …that taking the train from Chicago to Champaign costs only $37 round trip on Amtrak.

Thank you Katie for indirectly forcing me to appreciate all that I have…at least eventually. And thank you for reading.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Don

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