Twenty-one years ago, Trudy and I changed our lives by leaving our professions and the city behind and moving on to becoming rural dwellers and ranchers. We felt strongly about developing our ranch as a future touchstone for family and friends. We hoped ,and time has confirmed, that our ranch has become a place for family and friends to gather, especially at our favorite time of year- Thanksgiving.
Trudy begins Thanksgiving planning by making the invitations, figuring out sleeping arrangements including borrowed bedrooms at our neighbor’s ranch, decorating the house and courtyard, and seeking help from family members and friends regarding not only the Thanksgiving meal but other meals over the long weekend. These contributions reduce the prospect of utter exhaustion for Trudy. We also have a custom of decorating “Stump Spirit” for Thanksgiving.
Stump Spirit is a stump beside our entry road, Blue Jay Way, and well known locally, and leads to our and several other ranches. The custom began modestly with a fake snake on the bare stump and has expanded to more elaborate decorations especially at Thanksgiving. Customarily people often under the cover of darkness steal down to the stump and provide decorations appropriate for the upcoming holiday. At other times we have had neighborhood gatherings and pot lucks at the stump, as it has become a site for occasional community gatherings.
Typical Ranch Thanksgivings consist of twenty-plus guests. The number may vary but always includes immediate family, extended family, and friends. Trudy’s family had the tradition of inviting additional folks who had no family of their own or had no other Thanksgiving plans, affectionately known within the family as “strays.” We have adopted this tradition of inviting strays to our Thanksgiving dinner as well.
The large number of people attending requires that we remove the furniture from the living room and set up rented long tables or place large pieces of plywood over saw horses. With tablecloths the rectangular table once decorated appears homey, stable, and welcoming.
The smells that exude from the kitchen tantalize our nostrils, the nostalgic soft music evokes memories of years past, and the yammer of background conversations before a crackling fire never fails to warm my heart. This for me is what Thanksgiving is all about.
Most people attending have particular tasks. Their jobs vary but include preparing a special dish, peeling potatoes and turning them into mashed potatoes and making the gravy (my task), making the cranberry sauce, preparing several types of turkey dressing (each family has its favorite), making the creamed peas or other savory vegetables, carving the turkeys, preparing salads and desserts, or clean up. Ample wine and champagne are consumed to wash down the feast. It is always a culinary bacchanalia.
Following the feast and with toasts completed, the tables are cleared, furniture returned, and Thanksgiving TV football begins. Other available activities include swimming or hot tub if the weather allows, yard games, hikes, hayrides, bird and deer watching, feeding of the horses and cattle, working collectively on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, scrabble, and most frequently post-Thanksgiving meal naps. It is a time to forget about work, kick back, and enjoy the outdoors, games and loved ones.
Below Granddaughter Ramsey working on her apple turkey and below that on her hotdog.
For me even more important than the food are the stories and conversations that crop up. Bringing people together for caring and sharing is what it is all about. Thanksgiving allows for the full expression of familial love. The importance of family bonding has become increasingly important I’ve gotten older. While the bonds have at times been tested, they have held firm throughout disagreements, divorces, illness, and political differences.
Love is really what life is all about. I ask my family, some of whom I may never know that are still in the future, to seriously consider continuing this family tradition. Life is really all about the love.
As an aside, years ago during a tornado warning and under a threatening sky, I herded Trudy, Katie, and the dogs inside an interior closet for safety while I went outside to further inspect the sky. (it’s a guy thing) After sitting awhile on the closet floor, Katie in all seriousness asked her Mother, “You don’t think this is another one of Dad’s famous family bonding exercises, do you?”
No Katie, the tornado warning and retreat to the safety of the closet was not a family bonding exercise staged by your father. Nevertheless, I am guilty as charged along with your Mother for having made the Thanksgiving Holiday the greatest a bonding experience we are capable of organizing.
Ranch Thanksgivings are my favorite holiday and my favorite time of year. At this time the ranch has been tucked in for winter, the hay has been stacked high in the barn, and the heavy ranch work has been completed. The daily work has been left behind by our family members and friends, as they wind their way to our ranch. This is truly a time for giving thanks for the amazing bounties received throughout the year. Greatest among those bounties are the love we share for our family members and good friends.
So as we say in our German community of Fredericksburg during our toasts at Thanksgiving, “Prosit!” May you forever enjoy your Thanksgivings with family and good friends. Wishing you great enjoyment on your Thanksgiving.