As a child I knew of only one way to celebrate Thanksgiving. My Thanksgivings of old always meant piling into the family station wagon and taking our annual trip to Joplin, Missouri, to spend the holiday with my father’s parents, his siblings, and other assorted relatives. Typically, on the Tuesday before “turkey day” my father would prepare the Ford wagon for travel. He’d check the tire pressure, top off the fluids, and clean the old, wood-paneled vehicle inside and out. Meanwhile, my mother spent her Tuesday baking desserts for the “big day” and gathering the necessities for the upcoming eight-hour jaunt. On Wednesday morning my father would neatly load up the back of the station wagon in a precise, well thought-out manner as the rest of us scurried around trying to meet his requested 9:00am departure time. Many times a piece of forgotten luggage would be discovered, halfway through his packing process, and more often than not my mother would send one of us four children out to the garage to deliver the bad news.
At that point, my father apparently felt like he had to remove every single item from the back of the station wagon. He would then start his meticulous packing all over again, but this time he did so with teeth clinched and whilst exuberating a perturbed breathing sound for everyone around him to hear. Normally, we weren’t on the road until about 10:45am which obviously was well past my father’s desired time for leaving Iowa. He eventually stopped setting a departure time (or at least he refrained from saying it out loud). I presume the omission of a set time was intended to spare the rest of the family from my father’s inescapable disappointment each year although it wasn’t too difficult to notice his dismay as the minutes continued ticking away. Once we were finally out on the open road it was pretty much smooth sailing, for about 20 minutes or so, until someone’s bladder needed emptying.
For me, Thanksgivings in Missouri meant reconnecting with my male cousins. It was always a little awkward in the beginning, like a first date, but before our initial day together was over we’d be right back to where we had left off the previous year. Before I knew it we were up to our menacing ways as we wandered around our grandpa’s farm. The boy cousins would play football and explore the nearby woods during the day, and at night we would play games, wreak havoc on the girl cousins’ activities, or just sit around telling exaggerated stories to one another. Somewhere in between we would gorge on our grandma’s traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Well, most of us anyway. My favorite cousin, who was just one year younger than me, ate like a bird. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the predictable small portions of food on his plate, and the delicate way he picked at the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes with his fork drove me absolutely nuts.
Maybe the reason for my irritable manner was due to my cousin’s accusatory glances aimed at me while I was devouring my third piece of pumpkin pie (whipped topping included). I no longer had to worry about those looks as I grew older because as an adult, with a family of my own, I had the freedom to explore other Thanksgiving Day opportunities. Most of the time we remained in Iowa, and spent the day with my mother’s side of the family. Once in a while we instead chose to have our holiday meal at a restaurant with my wife’s side of the family. On the rare occasion we did decide to venture back to Missouri, for my traditional childhood Thanksgiving, I usually found myself reverting to some old childhood ways as well. All of us “boy” cousins were back to being menaces, and wreaking havoc on our grandpa’s farm, in no time.