There are few occasions that bring family together better than Thanksgiving. This famous Norman Rockwell illustration was first published in 1943 yet still represents the Thanksgiving ideal for many of us.
My own family Thanksgiving tradition is really a patchwork quilt of traditions. I don't have one single, over-riding memory of the holiday but rather many snippets, almost all involving family.
As a youngster, we spent most of our Thanksgivings at my Grandma Lehmer's. I confess to not remembering this until I started sorting through slides that my Dad shot of various Thanksgiving gatherings. There it is, in vivid Ektachrome - the main table loaded with Thanksgiving goodies and we kids - my brothers and cousins - assembled at card tables scattered around the dining room and living room, carrying out our own particular brands of mischief. My brothers seemed to have better memories of this than me, but Dad's photos were a big help to me.
I suspect that Dad's November 22 birthday had something to do with his mother assuming the role of Thanksgiving Cook in Chief. Although I didn't appreciate it at the time, she was a marvelous cook.
After I joined the Air Force just before Thanksgiving 1968, it would be several years before I enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with my larger family again. I spent Thanksgiving of 1968 in a mess hall in the early days of basic training. A year later, I celebrated the holiday with a bunch of fellow junior officers in Champaign, Ill., followed by a game of touch football.
For our first Thanksgiving together as a married couple, Linda and I celebrated at the Vacaville, Calif., apartment of some Air Force friends from Detroit and for the first time in my life I ate a roasted capon instead of turkey on Thanksgiving.
After moving back to Iowa, Linda and I celebrated most Thanksgivings in our own home, generally with our own growing brood, sometimes with other relatives. Sometimes we ate at other relative's homes. Since moving from the extended family headquarters in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, we've focused on making Thanksgiving a welcoming holiday in our Urbandale home, especially with our three children.
But, of course, kids grow up and move away and old traditions give way to new ones. Bret and Claudia now regularly entertain friends and Claudia's family in their Silver Spring, Md., home on Thanksgiving. Aaron and Rana will probably enjoy the day with friends in their Oakland, Calif., home, although vegetarian Aaron will probably insist on some Tofurkey, a turkey substitute that falls well short, in my estimation.
That leaves daughter Meghan, who this year has invited us to enjoy a free-range turkey in her Urbandale home with her husband, Paul, and son, Evan.
So, even though my Thanksgivings have been all over the place, they have one thing in common - good friends and family - and isn't that the best you can get from any tradition?