Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving memories: Which hold the most significance?

Have you written a story about Christmas for your memoir?
If so, send me your vignette
between now and December 10
and I’ll select one to publish here
the week before Christmas.
See all the details in my November 12 post at this link:

I smile when I think back on the first Thanksgiving dinner I prepared as a newlywed on Alaska Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C.

I tried so hard to recall how my mother readied the turkey—she always got up early in the morning, slathered the bird with butter, and wrapped it in foil—so that’s what I did, too.

But then I stood in the kitchen asking myself, What is the right oven temperature?

And how, exactly, did Mom make her stuffing? And her gravy? I wanted to make them just like hers because they were perfect.

I had watched her for years but that day I was 3,000 miles from home and my husband, Dave, was more clueless than I was, so I was on my own.

I’ll say just two things: (a) I turned the lights way down so Dave and our guest couldn’t see what was on their plates, and (b) no one died, or even threw up.

Two Thanksgivings and two days later, Dave drove me to the hospital—at a crawl because dense Seattle fog enveloped us—for the birth of our first child.

Five Thanksgivings later, police cars rushed into our quiet, safe neighborhood. They halted in front of the house across the street and armed officers hurried inside. Alcohol and a gun spoiled that family’s Thanksgiving.

Now, in my old age, Thanksgiving brings to mind windstorms. They always seem to wallop the Pacific Northwest at Thanksgiving—and right on schedule, this year’s weather included a high-wind watch with sustained speeds of 50 mph, gusts up to 60 mph, and lots of rain.

I recall waiting on the Kingston ferry dock on many a Thanksgiving morning, marveling at soaring wind-whipped waves crashing onto the dock and waiting cars. They promised a wild, lurching ferry ride across Puget Sound.*

I remember crossings when the ferry pitched so low that, through windows on the starboard side, we could see only saltwater and, on the port side, only leaden skies. A few seconds later, the ferry listed in the opposite direction and we could see only murky skies to the right and angry, churning sea to the left.

Pacific Northwest Thanksgivings conjure more memories: gale-toppled evergreens causing widespread power outages, and good-natured cooks coming up with alternate ways to finish roasting the turkey. Inevitably we gathered around the table later than expected, by candlelight, and every bite was delicious.

Those recollections bring a smile, or a tear, but I want to use them in a memoir, so I needed to go beyond “a report to a reflection which gives meaning to the events which might not have been evident” as I lived them. (Biff Barnes, The Author’s Dual Role in a Memoir*)

I had to dig deeper, search for lessons, and discover how such events shaped me into the person I am today.

I needed to explore what God was doing through the incidents: teaching, humbling, loving, preparing me for future Thanksgivings—and certainly heaping blessings upon me and my family.

Can you guess which Thanksgiving memory in my list holds the most poignant lesson for me?

It’s not the memory I expected.

I wouldn’t have discovered it if I hadn’t spent the past few days pondering those incidents.

In reflecting on our neighbor whose Thanksgiving was ruined by too much alcohol and a guest’s gun, I find, in Biff Barnes’ words, meaning in the event that was not evident to me at the time.

That incident happened nearly forty years ago but because I deliberately took time to think about it this week, here’s the deeper significance I discovered:

God gave my mother gumption to take a brave stand when I was a toddler, an action that, over the years, kept our family home from resembling our neighbor’s that Thanksgiving Day.

You see, my father’s extended family had trouble with alcohol and that caused grief when they came to our house.

Eventually my young little mother made a decision, gathered her courage, and made an announcement: People that had been drinking were not welcome in our home. Sober relatives were always welcome.

I now realize that God gave Mom wisdom to foresee that alcohol could ruin our family. God helped her make deliberate choices to protect the wellbeing of her children and the family’s home, a decision that has conveyed far-reaching, multi-generational blessings.

A few days ago when I recognized the significance of what my mother had done, my heart soared with gratitude and admiration for her. Our family had numerous heartaches and hardships during my childhood, but our home was always a happy, safe, loving haven.

Thanks, Mom. A million thanks—though a million is not nearly enough.

What about your Thanksgiving memories? Give yourself a few days to reflect on which ones hold significance—meaning—which might not have been evident to you as you lived them.

Write your stories!

*Links and references:

Here’s a 26-second video of the Kingston ferry docking in Edmonds (and a peek at a gray whale),

Here’s a 1-minute video of the Kingston ferry on the way to Edmonds in a little wind storm; believe me, it gets worse! 

The Author’s Dual Role in a Memoir, by Biff Barnes in About Memoirs and Personal History Books, The Author’s Craft,


  1. What great Thanksgiving memories you share. Your mother certainly was brave and wise. My favorite Thanksgiving memory is sitting around the table for hours talking with my mother's family after our dinner. We did this at every holiday, and I loved to listen to the grown-ups talk.

  2. Beautiful... you always make me cry :) Truth and beauty and love in writing. Thanks, Mom. (a million's not nearly enough...)


  3. That DID take guts. So hard to go against the grain, even when you know folks (especially those close to you) won't like it.

    But as Elisabeth Elliott said, "God takes responsibility for the consequences of our obedience."

    Does He ever.

  4. Olive Tree, my memories of family gatherings are much like yours: sitting around the dinner table listening to my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents visiting. Their lives and attitudes shaped me more than my loved ones know. I need to be sure to let them know.

    Karen Anne, thanks for stopping by. You have blessed me way beyond what any mother could ever dream of. I thank God for you!

    Rhonda, yes, my mother took a courage stand. My dad's side of the family always honored her request, and they came over often, and because they were sober we had good times and now have good memories. Somehow God works all things out for good.

    In each generation, if we need to do something to break a harmful cycle, we need to take a stand. It's worth it! And like Elisabeth Elliott said, "God takes responsibility for the consequences of our obedience."

    Blessings to you three: Olive Tree, Karen, and Rhonda.


  5. What a beautiful story, Linda. To be able to find the blessing in this painful childhood memory is truly a gift. And how brave your young Mother was to make such a courageous stand with her relatives. She broke the cycle and impacted subsequent generations ,guided by God's grace. Our God is so awesome! Thank you for sharing this powerful testimony!

  6. Hi, Kathy, yes my mother broke the cycle and my brothers and I were truly blessed by her courageous choice. My kids, and now grandkids, are also blessed because of the choice my mother made. I have always appreciated my mother, but now I have one more reason to be overwhelmed with gratitude to her and for her.

    I hope you've had a good Thanksgiving weekend, Kathy! Thanks for stopping by!