Thanksgiving has long been a holiday where my very large family has come together over food and love and laughter. When I was younger, that took place at my grandmother’s house, in her garage. We had a long table set up for us to eat on and we would all gorge ourselves on homemade cornbread dressing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie, candied yams, collard greens, and other traditional southern thanksgiving dishes. Then, when all of the food had been digested, my uncle would take all of the children to the local carnival and let us ride all the rides we wanted and eat more candy and sweets. We had a blast!
Then, over the years, Thanksgiving didn’t seem like such a thankful or happy time. For me, it became a time where I grew more concerned about my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother bore six children. Each an individual pregnancy, but each pregnancy came in pairs. Each pair, a boy and a girl, were born a year a part from each other and the next pair, two years later. My mother was the youngest of the six children.
November was a busy month for my family. Of my grandmother’s six children, her first pair, a boy and a girl, were born in November. They were born 1 year and 2 days apart from each other. One on the 20th and the other on the 22nd. My oldest aunt gave birth to her first daughter on November 25th. My grandmother’s middle daughter’s sons were born on November 11th and November 19th. And grandma’s youngest daughter, my mother, had me on November 30th. This made for great Thanksgiving dinners. They were always celebrations of life. We always had a birthday cake and we always got serenaded right before dinner was served.
However, over the years, these celebrations of life took on a different meaning. Since my childhood, we have lost many of those born in the month of November. My grandmother has seen her legacy disappear before her eyes and she has been left to carry her own torch. She has had more loss in her life than one should have to endure. It started in 1996 when my cousin, the one born on November 25th, passed away. Then, grandma lost her middle son to complications of diabetes in 2002. Since then, her oldest pair of children passed away in their birth order a few years apart – the oldest (November 20th) in 2011, then the oldest boy (November 22nd) in 2015, and her middle daughter passed away on Mother’s Day in 2014.
Now, in the year 2018, my grandmother is closing in on 87 years old and only has two remaining children, her youngest pair. She has aged tremendously during this time under the weight of grief of burring her children, a stroke, and simply getting older. As she looks forward to tomorrow, she is thankful for her life but is reminded of the lives she birthed and watched get taken from her too soon. She will be surrounded by her grandchildren, her last living daughter, and her many great-grand children. She has passed down her recipes and her life lessons to her children and grandchildren. And while she will smile and laugh with us, I know she will hurt. I ache for both my grandmother and my mother. For every child that my grandmother lost, my mother lost a sibling. Because of the age gap between the children, the oldest pair were like an additional set of parents for her. She lost both of her sisters, her friends, her best friends. She has been the primary care taker for my grandmother during her recovery from her stroke. For every loss that my grandmother suffered, my mother was right there with her. I worry for both of them.
Thanksgiving for grandma, doesn’t mean the same as it once did when she was full of life and her legacy was counted among the living. Now, she prays she has passed enough down to the next generation, my generation, to carry her legacy on. This year, she will sit back and watch the fruit of the trees she planted give thanks for her. Give thanks for her strength. Give thanks for her undying love. Give thanks for HER! It is because of her that we can.