Janet Sheridan: Overeating, pie and Aunt Mary

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Janet Sheridan

— I love Thanksgiving.

Growing up, I looked forward to the quiet holiday tucked between my birthday and Christmas, because I could eat all I wanted — an unusual occurrence when competing on a daily basis with six siblings, hungry and mean.

But, I discovered Thanksgiving was more than abundant food when I celebrated it with a college friend and her family.

I remember sitting with careful posture at a crowded table, wondering what I would talk about with these people who didn’t ask a blessing on the food and argued about the Vietnam War while passing the gravy.

I felt like a water balloon, full of bottled-up tears, about to burst.

I thought perhaps hunger motivated my misery. I hadn’t taken second helpings because no one else did. Evidently, at this table, it would be inappropriate to eat until stuporous.

Or, maybe my unhappiness flowed from the absence of pumpkin pie. When the hostess produced chocolate mousse for desert, I barely managed to stifle a gasp of disbelief: “No pumpkin pie? What sort of family is this?”

Then, unannounced, Aunt Mary danced into my mind. I adored her. She had crooked teeth like mine and listened to me. I smelled her lilac scent and saw her flushed cheeks as she kicked off her shoes after Thanksgiving dinner and performed a Charleston to music on my cousin’s transistor radio. Just a flash of memory, then she was gone.

The truth hit me. It wasn’t pumpkin pie or the opportunity for gluttony I missed. I was homesick.

Every Thanksgiving my family drove from Lake Shore to Provo in a bulging sedan, balancing foil-covered pans of dinner rolls and newspaper-wrapped casseroles, to gather in a church recreation hall with Mom’s folks.

It was a large and raucous group: grandma, aunts, uncles and too many cousins to count, ranging from college students trying to look intellectual to new babies being passed hand to hand.

Grandma, Mom and my aunts ruled the kitchen, laughing and working in a precise choreography, shooing away interlopers looking for a taste of turkey.

A volleyball game with fluid teams ebbed and flowed at one end of the gym. Toddlers playing tag ran through the court, disrupting play, dodging between the legs of the players. No one minded.

Uncle Norley’s laugh boomed as he and Dad swapped hunting stories, Mr. Potato Head pieces crunched underfoot, and marbles from the Chinese checkers game bounced around the floor.

In a corner, teenagers clustered to pose and share insider information, banning younger siblings from their circle.

When Aunt Arlene didn’t finish lining the tables with butcher paper and later wondered why anyone would put walnuts in fruit salad, we noticed. But, we reserved judgment; she was from Oregon, after all, and new to the clan.

During the meal, familiar stories were repeated, cousins compared enlarged bellies, and the cooks were applauded. Everyone agreed it was the best meal yet, and Grandpa would have loved it.

Grandma prepared packets of food for each family to take home and hugged us to her as we left.

Being thankful is best done when surrounded by loved ones.

Over the years, my definition of family has expanded. Dear friends have brightened my favorite holiday; new families have enriched it.

Still, at some point during the happiness of my Thanksgivings, a moment arrives when my mind rushes back to a family-filled gym, where I see the smile of my still-young mom and enjoy the antics of her kin.

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