A memoir of the Gallagher’s Thanksgiving past


photo via Country Living Magazine

Thanksgiving: a holiday as timeless as life itself. Wedged in between the Spooky and Christmas seasons, this sometimes overlooked holiday boasts rich, coma-inducing food, long-winded political arguments and spirited comradery around the dinner table.

Upon mention of this sacred tradition, a rush of memories and reminiscences send me spiraling into Thanksgiving past. 

The final hours of the school before break bring flashbacks of hand turkey drawings, class-viewings of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (for the hundredth time) and the traditional account of the Mayflower and pilgrims.

Once break begins, long hours of preparation for feast day await. The sharp smell of cleaning products and ear-splitting hum of the vacuum painfully remind me of the deep-cleaning I’ve undertaken ever since I was competent enough to help out. In spite of my busy, ever-changing life, I could always count on the heavy flatware, lack of enough silverware and inevitable papercut from folding napkins to remain a constant.

There are a few days each year where I shed my not-a-morning-person mentality and rise to the occasion, Thanksgiving always one of them. Cooking has always been a passion of mine and each year my responsibilities grow. Peeling potatoes, baking pies and helping out my dad wherever I can sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Soon, relatives begin to arrive. First my nonno and nonna, then my vast array of Italian aunts, uncles and cousins all pack into my family’s dining and living room for the feast. Yes, I said living room, because you cannot fit 30 to 40 Italians around our small, dining room table alone. Folding chairs and tables, while sometimes unstable, bear the weight of course after course–from antipasta to soup to turkey and stuffing.

In the intermission between dinner and dessert, the inevitable spirited political debate breaks out around a game of Texas Hold’em. While I myself have yet to partake in a game, I can recall years of sitting with my dad, believing I was helping his cause and providing him luck. Hopefully, a decent game of football rings out in the background, cutting through the usual disagreements. 

Some years, enough snow blanketed the ground, allowing for a few precious hours of sledding and snowball fights with my brothers and cousins.

Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays where my large extended family could get together and count our blessings. However, these fond memories will be the only constants during this year’s feast.

Most of my family, conscious of Covid-19 health risks, have elected to forego this happy tradition. As of now, only my immediate family and grandparents will be the guests of our once glorious feast. The pandemic, yet again, triumphs.

Who knows how many Thanksgivings I have left with my family as a whole. If I’m not getting any younger, my aging grandparents and great uncles certainly aren’t. With college looming on the horizon, I had hoped to round out my childhood with one or two more memory-evoking Thanksgivings. Thanks to the pandemic, uncertainty and fear take this away too.

Despite this series of unfortunate events, the underlying blessings from God present me with much to be thankful for, it only takes a change in perspective.

I’m thankful for the unique opportunity this year has provided me. I move through life so fast, sometimes forgetting to stop and smell the roses. The long months of quarantine not only allowed for petty things like catching up on sleep and cancellation of second semester exams, but it gave me time with my immediate family–hours I will cherish going into my final years of high school.

I’m overwhelmingly thankful for good health. This past spring, Covid took one of my great-uncles from our family. This experience taught me to value the little, sometimes silly, moments. Life is too short to take the value of Thanksgiving for granted. Appreciate every memory, no matter how insignificant or small they seem in the moment.

I’m thankful for the friendships that have carried me through this tough, sometimes discouraging time. Fear takes shape only when we let our thoughts dwell upon it. Hours of laughter and late-night FaceTime calls remind me to hold onto joy and look past current circumstances. 

Most of all, I am thankful for faith and life. In the darkest moments, the beauty of nature, the smallest act of kindness, the uplifting power of the Holy Spirit have all given hope. Going into this holiday season, service and community mean everything and remain necessary in providing prosperity.

While this Thanksgiving will be unlike any before, the countless blessings humble and allow me to look passed this current worldview. This year’s practices, people and circumstances may appear to deter this feast of gratitude, it can never truly destroy the underlying spirit and hope this holiday brings.