For the 11 years since Denyce and I got engaged, we've been doing the usual thing common to most young couples — juggling which holidays to spend where and with which side of which family. With Denyce's dad's side? With Denyce's mom's side? Or can we make it to California to be with Rob's folks?
But one thing was very consistent — Thanksgiving was always with Denyce's dad's side. For reasons few can probably explain, Denyce's dad's side of the family has consistently had exactly one whole-family get-together per year. Not Christmas, or Easter, or any other holiday. It was Thanksgiving or bust.
The center of this tradition was Denyce's grandmother on her dad's side, whose grandmotherly name was Granny. The Thanksgiving get-together always took place at Granny's house on the outskirts of Abilene, TX. And boy, did Granny work it. She was a veritable powerhouse of energy, of non-stop cooking and visiting and wrangling relatives all together. But her bustle had strictly defined time parameters. It would begin about 4:00 in the morning and last until sometime around 7:00 in the evening (or 8:00 if she was pushing it). Then she was off to bed, no questions asked. The rest of us could be up playing games late into the night, but Granny was in bed because 4:00 the next morning was coming up fast.
Because of the reality I mentioned above -- that Thanksgiving was the family get-together -- Granny had a unique way of conducting Thanksgiving day. Her little house would be fully decorated for Thanksgiving well in advance, and her Thanksgiving spread of food covered all the requisite staples of Thanksgiving fare. She did Thanksgiving to the tee. But let me tell you, as soon as the last fork from the last eater's last bite hit their plate, Thanksgiving was over. And it was now Christmas season.
Before the dishes would even be cleared from the table, it seemed, Granny would have magically produced the boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations and would have half the women helping her put up the Christmas decorations. Once the decorations were up, it wasn't much longer into the afternoon before Granny would circle everyone up and distribute her Christmas gifts to everyone. After all, no one even pretended that they would all see each other for Christmas. In this family, we did Thanksgiving, period, and so Christmas had to be given a time slot on Thanksgiving day.
Granny passed away earlier this month, on November 5th. She was 81 years old, closing in on 82. This year wasn't our family's first Thanksgiving without being at Granny's -- we had to miss it in 2007 when Denyce was 37 weeks pregnant with Silas, and again in 2008 and 2009 when we were in our first years in Ukraine. But this year was the first Thanksgiving with no family get-together at Granny's at all, because Granny was no longer with us. Her passing was not unexpected, as both Granny's health and mind had been gradually deteriorating for the past year or two. Last year -- 2010 -- was the last Thanksgiving at Granny's house, and after missing it for three years our family made it to that one. We had just flown in the night before and Thanksgiving Day was the first day of our furlough.
We are very grateful to have seen Granny multiple times in the last couple of months before her recent passing. We had just been with her at the hospital the week before she died. Perhaps that is one of the silver linings of this crazy year we've had with our support losses and unanticipated time back in the US to find new partners. We got to see Granny a little bit more in her last months with us.
There are so many pictures I could have included with this post, but I decided to select photos of Granny with each of our boys over the past few years:
Granny holding Malachi at age 1.5 months, October 2005
Granny with Denyce and Silas (in Denyce's lap) at age 9 months, September 2008
Granny with many (but not nearly all) of her great-grandchildren, Thanksgiving 2010
Granny with Ezra, October 27, 2011