Family Thanksgiving

My niece, Leighann, is guest blogger for today, sharing her reflections on a past Thanksgiving which is reminiscent of every family Thanksgiving.  From our house to yours – Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

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The crunching of snow and gravel under the tires of the Highlander wakes me up as we pull up into the drive. The headlights cast an eerie glow on the snow covered farmhouse and pines set a ways back from the road. But the golden glow through the windows promises a cozy warm house full of family and mugs filled with hot coco.

We park in front of a large pile of chopped wood that is waiting to be brought in and added to the always roaring fire.  I wipe away the sleepiness from my eyes and put my hiking boots back on. I prepare to leave the warmth of the car to the harsh evening cold of up-state New York as Icy, our golden retriever finally figures out we have arrived at our destination. She stands up and wags her feathery tail excitedly in my face looking out at my father who is now walking around the car. I put her leash back on and let her out through my door.

My feet crunch into the snow as my knees protest their sudden use after being cramped in a car with two parents, a dog, two duffels and many presents for seven hours. I can now hear my aunt’s dogs barking. I grab my pillow from my seat and slowly walk toward the side door of the house, dog in tow.

The screen door to the mud room opens. I see the silhouette of my aunt Lee as two furry balls of welcoming joy run down the stairs, nails clicking on the wooden steps. “Hello,” my aunt chimes as Molly, the black border collie, and Beethoven, the tall red golden retriever swarm us. I let Icy of the leash to go play with her cousins.

We stomp up the stairs trying to remove the snow from our boots and enter the musky mud room. Tin upon tin of cookies have been stacked on any flat open surface of the small cluttered room to keep them cool and out of reach of the food thief known as Beethoven.

“You made it,” Aunt Lee says as we remove our wet boots adding them to the pile already forming. She is already in her warm flannel pajamas. “Oh, I’m so happy to see you!” She declares as we hug tightly, bouncing on our toes. “Me too,” I reply. She pulls away and looks at me, her finger squishing her nose down and I do the same. “Pug!” we both say giggling as my dad rolls his eyes.

“Would you two save it for later? I’m freezing my butt off over here,” he grumbles.

We all move into the kitchen. There are still more cookies in the oven and I can hear the Christmas music floating in from the living room. I hurry into the other room to find my grandfather sitting contently on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. His eyes are closed and there is a smile on his face as he listens to the rise and fall of the music. His eyes opened as he hears my mother shut the mud room door. “Leighann! You’re here! I better say my hello’s then,” his smile widens as he slowly gets up from the sofa and adjusts his glasses. He hugs me and my face is squished into his soft burgundy sweater. He pulls away and smiles, “It’s good to see you.” I can see some powdered sugar in the corner of his mouth from his favorite Christmas treat, rum balls.

“You too, Grandpa. You’ve got a little something,” I add, motioning to where the sugar is.

“Oh, thank you,” he says as he wipes it away and moves into the kitchen to greet my parents.

I move back into the kitchen and further into the dining room. My towering father is by the puzzle covered table stooping to hug his mother. They say soft hellos and my father goes back into the kitchen to greet my grandfather. I step forward to hug my grandmother, but first she picks up a cookie and says before she takes a bite, “The peanut butter blossoms are my favorite this year.”

I smile and add as I embrace her, “They’re your favorite every year.”

She looks at me contemplative and swallows, “You might be right.” Her eyes shine and she adds, “But that’s because-”

“-They have chocolate!” we both say in unison. We smile and turn as my mother adds, “That’s why they’re my favorite too.”

I walk back into the kitchen as they embrace. My dad pats me on the back, “Come on, scooter. Let’s bring the bags in.” We slip our boots back on and go back into the frigid night to ferry the bags and presents into the house. By the end of it, we’re both overheated in our thick winter coats and our socks and pants are damp from putting on and removing our boots in the snow-melted mud room.

I go up to the room that is always mine when we visit. The old floor boards creak as I enter and I can smell the dusty old hutch desk. A few assorted stuffed animals are perched on the top of the hutch because my aunt doesn’t want me to miss my own. I can hear a fly buzzing around trying to get out of my window as I place my duffle in front of the closet. I sit on the worn quilt and change my socks, then put on my plaid flannel pajamas.

I hurry back downstairs where everyone has congregated in the living room to discuss our journey to the northern reaches. The dogs are back inside, and Icy is curled up in front of my dad by the fire. My aunt calls my mother and me to the kitchen to pick which hot chocolate or tea we would like. Beethoven follows my aunt closely, waiting for any form of food to be dropped. I ask for some hot chocolate and then go into the mud room to get some cookies. My mother shouts, “Bring me some too.”

Grandma adds from the living room, “Bring the tin in. I might want some as well.”

I step cautiously, trying to avoid puddles and melting snow as I investigate every tin. Pepparkakor, molasses cookies, chocolate fudge, o’henry bars, peanut butter blossoms – my stomach turns as I open the tin of rum balls remembering the time I accidentally ate a few at a wedding a couple years back. Those were not treats for me as an 8-year-old and they still aren’t now. I go back to the pepparkakor, making a quick decision as the cold of the mud room begins to seep through my pajamas. I rush back into the warm kitchen accidentally stepping in a little puddle along the way.

The dogs are waiting for me, knowing that I’ve grabbed tasty treats, and they follow as I scuttle into the living room trying not to step on the damp part of my sock. My mother looks up at me as I enter the room. “Your hot chocolate is on the table,” she says pointing to the tall thin table behind the sofa, then asks which cookies I grabbed.

“Pepperkocker.”

“Good choice,” my dad hums from the padded chair across the room by the freshly cut pine tree.

My grandmother leans over from the chair next to me and taps my arm. “May I have a few, please?” she asks, peering over the open tin in my hand. I lower the tin and she selects a few. I grab a couple for myself and hand the tin to my mother who is crowded on the sofa with my aunt and grandfather. I move my hot chocolate to the side table next to my grandmother and tap my mother’s legs. “Move.”  She slides her legs a little over so I can sit on the floor against the couch.

I gobble up my cookies quickly before the dogs can realize that food has reached their level. Molly comes over and licks the crumbs off my face and hands then lies down next to me. I stretch my feet out so the fire can dry the damp spot on my sock.

I soak in the warmth from the fire and the sleeping dog next to me as I listen to the soft conversations around me. Beethoven groans as my grandfather scratches his back and Icy is loyally next to my father resting from the long day of travel and people.

The conversation slowly dies down once my grandparents go to bed. My eyes have gotten sleepy again, and I make my way to bed.

As I lay down on the soft flannel sheets with penguins skiing and playing in the snow I am excited for the following days leading to Christmas. Aunt Philippa, Uncle Hubster, Douglas, and BLee will show up tomorrow and the house will be filled with family, the tree full of presents. Mom and Aunt Lee will make spritz cookies and many a puzzle will be started and finished. The family will be crowded in the living room and the den reading books and sharing stories as classical Christmas music continually plays through the house.

I pull the quilt and sheets up further, snuggling into my comfortable bed, and quickly drift off to sleep.

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