You Can't Mess With Tradition

I'M never sure when Thanksgiving is. I never forget Christmas, because as soon as I open my presents I start counting until the next 25th of December. Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday if I only knew when it was. In school they tell us it's the fourth Thursday of November, but nobody ever says the actual date. I wish those Pilgrims had invited the Indians over for Sunday dinner, say, on Nov. 23. It would have simplified this whole thing about Thanksgiving and made my life a whole lot easier. By putting it on a Thursday probably some far-sighted colonist was thinking about a long weekend.

No matter when, I can hardly wait for Turkey Day. It's the first break we have from school and to get away from Miss Dixon. We have to go to classes right up through midday on Wednesday, which my mother says is harder on the teacher than on us. But my mother doesn't really know Miss Dixon.

She has no sense of humor and makes me sit in the front row where she can keep ``an eye on me.'' It's not her eye that worries me. It's the fact that she casts a giant shadow over my desk.

Every year we drive to my grandmother's house for Thanksgiving. Her house is big, white, and looks like where George Washington lived. There are three floors and five bathrooms. In our house we have one bathroom and a lot of standing around on one foot and yelling.

It's a long drive to grandmother's house stuffed in Aunt Dot's Ford. Up front there's a lot of pointing out of missed road signs. In back I nearly suffocate being stuffed in between my two older brothers.

We are not a quiet family. It's better that we celebrate Thanksgiving in a house rather than a restaurant. Usually, somebody cries and then somebody gets yelled at. Eventually we get around to laughing and telling stories. Oh, boy, can my relatives tell stories.

God tends to come into our conversations a lot on holidays. God spends a good deal of time with all my relatives except for this one cousin who's in college and keeps saying ``There's no God.'' It's silly but he keeps doing this every year.

Grandma's dining room looks as big as our school auditorium. There are enough chairs for everybody if we rummage through three floors. This is when I try to count all the rooms without scraping the antique wallpaper with a chair leg. Once I made a tiny scratch and I've never heard the end of it.

The most popular Thanksgiving tradition we have is opening the oven door. Everybody knows how to cook the turkey better than anyone else. My father tells me ``It's a wonder the poor bird gets cooked at all.''

Each branch of the family brings its own specialty. Mom brings pies. This year there are two apple because they ```go fast.'' Squash, ``for tradition,'' blueberry, mince, lemon meringue, and Dad's favorite, pecan. I asked Mom to make Ice Box Lime this year, but it probably won't pass the family tradition test. My opinion doesn't carry a lot of weight.

My sister-in-law introduced a new dish last Thanksgiving. That took courage. Marrying into our family is difficult enough without changing the Thanksgiving menu. Jane claimed her cranberry sherbet ``clears the palate.'' I'm not sure what that means, but everybody smiled and ate it. It's not on the table this year.

I like desserts and wouldn't mind getting rid of all these vegetables. When I announce this, my grandmother gives me a withering look from across the table. So, I begin choking on the turnip, which does get me a certain amount of attention from aunts on either side of me.

Each year when it's time to clean up I suggest very loudly that we all play softball. Each year I fail and get stuck in the kitchen. We're all supposed to do our share of the chores which I think has something to do with our ``Puritan work ethic.'' Everyone works except my cousin Karen, who spends most of the day clinging to her mother's leg. Karen has orange hair and I call her ``carrots,'' which drives her bananas.

Our family has always been a stickler for manners. It's those Pilgrim forefathers lurking over everybody's shoulder with their holier-than-thou attitudes. I can't win.

Even before the sun sets, some relatives start leaving, but this year we're staying the whole weekend.

I've got to remember every single thing that happens this year, because dear ol' Miss Dixon is going to make us write a composition on what we did.

Thanksgiving doesn't change that much from year to year. It's not supposed to.

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