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First Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago my brother and I scattered our parents’ ashes into the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Leeper Park hugs the river immediately north of downtown, and is a short walk from Mom’s childhood home. It was Mom’s wish that her ashes be scattered there. Dad wished only that his ashes be scattered, so we chose this place for him, too. We invited close friends and family.

We crossed a footbridge onto a small island just off the river bank, and released their ashes under this tree. Rick released Dad, and I released Mom. A persistent, insistent wind wanted to blow their ashes back, so we went slowly. Finally we finished, and their remains spread gently into the water.

My wife handed out flowers from large bouquets; carnations, roses, lilies, and daisies. Our guests took them gratefully and tossed them right into the water so they could float downriver with Mom and Dad.

It was good to share stories with everyone and shed mutual tears. Several of us then went to lunch together after and continued to stay connected over our mutual losses.

Thanksgiving was Mom’s favorite holiday. Until she handed off the reins to me six or seven years ago, she always made the family meal. It was the same every year, as the food tradition mattered so much to her. A well-set table also mattered to her and it was the one time we used the generational family china, glassware, and silver. When Mom passed the china down to my wife and me, we knew she meant for us to continue her traditions. We did.

Now, I may not. Those traditions don’t mean anything to my wife’s family, although they cheerfully went along with them these last several years. What’s left of my family don’t always come for Thanksgiving. This year especially, my two sons will spend Thanksgiving with their mom, as it’s the first since we lost their oldest sister Rana. It feels like we are free to make our own traditions. Or maybe we’ll make no traditions and just do whatever feels good every year. But no matter what we do, we’ll remember Mom on her favorite holiday.

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23 thoughts on “First Thanksgiving

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Always good to remember Mom, especially on her favorite holiday. Just had a conversation recently about how I’ve spent so much time living around the country, with at times marginal income, that I’ve spent many holidays quite alone. But of course, it’s a state of mind, not a state of being, so I’ve rarely felt that depressed loneliness. I use the time to reflect on my family and friends around the country and world.

    Based on my experience in various types of media and advertising, and parsing that data out, it seems that Thanksgiving is the number one travel holiday, because people seem to believe that Thanksgiving is the holiday to spend with extended family and friends, and Christmas seems to be the holiday to be with your direct family, and to hang around the house or neighborhood. An interesting view.

    Have to say, the best “alone” city for the holidays I’ve ever lived in was Washington DC. So many singles living there with high pressure jobs that don’t offer much available time, that there are many bars and restaurants offering fixed price meals with all the trimmings for that group. I’ve spent many a holiday at Whitlows eating a special meal (btw, featured in Broadcast News). I hope they’re still in business and doing the holiday thing!

    • I am relieved no longer to have to travel at Thanksgiving. Every year we schlepped to South Bend to see my parents. They moved to Indy in 2014 and Thanksgiving has been at my house ever since.

  2. We alternate years of traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving with our son and his family and having our Thanksgiving at home when they travel to our daughter-in-law’s parents’. When it is at our house we invite friends and neighbors who would otherwise be having Thanksgiving alone.

    • How nice. When my sons were still young and I alternated Thanksgivings with their mom, on the “off years” my mom would always invite neighbors in too to share Thanksgiving with us.

  3. fotosharp3820ea7ebf says:

    Before our parents passed on, our family spent many years travelling from Seattle to Arizona for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most years we had two holiday meals each day. First, “lunch” with my wife’s family in Tucson, then “dinner” with my family who lived a couple hours drive away. It was good to visit, but wasn’t exactly stress free.

    Personally, I preferred it the couple of times we skipped all that and drove to an in-state resort for a couple nights for Thanksgiving instead. No cooking!! :) But, no leftovers either. :(

  4. Greg Anderson says:

    Isn’t this what Thanksgiving is? Warm memories of past celebrations and looking forward to what is coming. My wife and I celebrate our holidays together here in sunny Las Vegas, family is scattered, and we enjoy the forging of new traditions
    I read your blog where you mentioned your book, “Square Photographs”. I purchased it and, I must say, found it enjoyable.

    • There was something to Mom’s Thanksgivings. They were always exactly the same, but that was comforting. Since then we’ve been trying to find our new groove.

      I’m so pleased you liked my book!

  5. tbm3fan says:

    The scattering of ashes makes me ambivalent because, to me, there is no marker left. My father was a WWII vet so his ashes were buried at a National Cemetery with all the pomp and circumstance. I can visit and see his name with rank on a gravestone. My sister’s ashes sit in an urn at her house that her son inherited. Knowing what my mother has laid out years ago, now way into dementia, her urn will be next to her daughter. I am thinking my ashes and my mother’s and sister’s be buried together at one site. I was at an ashes scattering ceremony this summer and the location picked was tempting. It was under the Golden Gate Bridge.

    • This is all so deeply personal. My parents wanted cremation and scattering, so that’s what we did. I personally don’t need a place to go where their remains are kept, with a marker. But my way isn’t for everybody.

  6. Nancy Herget says:

    Thanks for sharing. Your dad and I go back a long way to the hills of West Virginia, we went to grade school together. Later, he joined the service, married and couple years ago we drove up to the family reunion and saw him for the last time. We kept in touch through Facebook. Met your mom for the first time, lovely lady. I was sorry to hear the news about her death.
    God bless….

  7. DougD says:

    That’s a nice spot, we were walking there on the east bank trail last month.

    Good that you can create new traditions of your own, and that you remember your mother without being tied to her traditions.

    Happy Thanksgiving, still lots to be thankful for!

  8. Tracie Silva says:

    Mom said she was happy to help celebrate your mom and dad! Wish I could have been there too. Beautiful story.

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