Poor Family Didn’t Have Anything Special To Eat But It Remained Their Best Thanksgiving Dinner Ever.

Story by Joseph Walker

Every year about this time, Americans devote an entire day to giving thanks for the blessings of life. We call this day Thanksgiving (one thing for which we can all be grateful this year is that the same person who named Thanksgiving wasn’t also in charge of naming Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day, or we might have had Giftgiving, Egggiving and Lingeriegiving, respectively).

Actually, Thanksgiving is the perfect name for this day of . . . well, thanks-giving. If we called it something clever — you know, like Pilgrimas or Squashter — its real meaning might get lost in symbolism or cluttered with commercialism. As it is, Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks. Oh, sure, it is also a day to gather with the family, eat turkey and watch football. But when it comes right down to it, giving thanks is high on the list of Things To Do on the fourth Thursday of November — even when you have to search for something for which to be grateful.

I remember one such Thanksgiving, about 18 years ago. During the previous year, we had weathered the first major crisis of our marriage, and while we were doing pretty well pulling together as a family, there were still scars and tender places. We were also struggling financially while living in a cramped apartment. To top it off, Anita was just days away from delivering our third child, and she was miserable (we men will never fully appreciate the physiological transformation that turns the light, happy “Honey, we’re having a baby!” to a deep, throaty “Get this thing out of me!”).

I was looking forward to Thanksgiving as a day off from work and a day to spend some time with my family. But I’ll be honest — mostly, I was looking forward to the food. Anita’s family had invited us to share Thanksgiving dinner with them, and Anita’s Mom is a great cook. Besides, I love Thanksgiving dinner, from the turkey (dark meat, please!) to the mashed potatoes to that green bean casserole with the fried onions on top. It has always been my favorite meal, but never more so than during this year when our food budget hadn’t allowed for extras, and Anita’s pregnancy had turned her taste toward soups, salads and licorice ice cream. I was ready to sink my teeth into a drumstick, and to keep eating until you couldn’t tell if it was me or Anita who was about to give birth.

Unfortunately, Anita awakened Thanksgiving morning feeling more miserable than usual. We kept hoping that she would perk up by the time we needed to leave for dinner, but by early afternoon it was clear she wouldn’t be going “over the river and through the woods” — or anywhere else, for that matter. And I certainly wasn’t going without her, no matter how loudly that drumstick was beckoning. So we called and made our apologies to her family, and then I started poking around in the kitchen for an appropriate substitute Thanksgiving dinner. Tuna? No. Tomato soup? No. Mac and cheese? Not even if we could make the macaroni stick together in the shape of a turkey.

So I packed up Amy and Joe Jr. and went shopping. Of course, that was easier said than done, since no stores in our small town were open. We finally found a store about 20 miles away that had three turkey TV dinners left. We took them home and split them between the four of us.

Sounds sort of pathetic, doesn’t it? But as far as I am concerned, it remains one of the best Thanksgivings ever. Somehow our lack of abundance helped me to see more clearly the blessings we did have. Instead of focusing on a sumptuous feast, I focused on three-going-on-four people who I loved more than life itself. We were happy. We were together. We had a roof over our heads. And we had food — such as it was — on our table. We had much for which to give thanks.

And as we all know, giving thanks is what Thanksgiving is all about.

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