I get to sit at the big table this year.
I speak of Thanksgiving, the finest day of the year — my favorite holiday since I was a kid in the 1970s. My parents had a tiny dining room back then — barely big enough to contain our modest oak table and six seats. Nonetheless, my mother loved having lots of people over.
Thus, we had to set up a portable table that extended into the living room, then, at a perpendicular angle, another table that ran through the living room toward the hallway. To that we added a card table, where the little ones sat (it took me two decades to move all the way up to the big table).
Despite the congestion — despite the chaotic assemblage of adults and kids of every age — the feast moved along like a well-managed Red Cross operation. While father sliced the turkey, mother whipped up the potatoes, my sisters organized the vegetables, muffins and fruit cocktail and my job was to pour the wine.
In time, everyone would be seated. We’d pause silently while my father said grace. And then we’d dig in, talking, laughing and devouring for 90 minutes or more.
I’ve experienced 45 Thanksgivings and — despite the standard ups and downs every family experiences — every one has been just like that. This Thanksgiving will be just the same.
Sure, the arrangements have changed since the early days. My parents live in a larger house now — partly because they needed a large, open living room and dining room to accommodate 30 diners or more (my father rents bingo tables and several folding chairs).
It’s true, too, that we’ll miss those who had been regulars for many years (Grandma and Nanna, Eddie Gabor and my dear sweet Uncle Mike). But we’ve had several new additions — 17 nieces and nephews and three grandnieces — to help fill the void.
And so the tradition goes on. It goes on because my mother holds everyone together. And every year, regardless of the good or bad times each of us may be experiencing, we are thankful.
We are thankful because we are together — because we know, deep in our bones, that everything we really need in life can be found around our Thanksgiving table. We don’t need massive riches to fill ourselves with happiness. To the contrary, material wealth can cause unhappiness — particularly when markets crash and our fortunes disappear.
We don’t need to overextend ourselves so we can drive expensive cars, live in McMansions and travel to exotic places, as too many folks have done.
We don’t need a government that promises to take care of our every need. We know that is a fool’s promise, anyhow. America is better off when able-bodied individuals look to themselves to take care of themselves.
What we need is to remember the basics: thrift, hard work, sacrifice. If you want to make more to provide more for your family, then make more of yourself. It took my Uncle Mike 13 years of night school to attain his college degree, but he did it.
We need to remember that we have little right to demand anything more from our country than the basics: freedom, security and the opportunity to pursue our happiness.
We ought not expect the government to bail us out for bad decisions we may have made — whether we are average Joes or the chairman of General Motors.
Perhaps it takes a nasty recession to bring us back to our senses. Perhaps that is the only way for most of us to remember what wealth really is — to remember how it is acquired and maintained and protected for future generations.
As far as the economy goes, my family is as apprehensive about the coming months as anyone. But it’s Thanksgiving and we will sit around the table as thankful as ever. We’ll focus not on our temporary woes, but on our many blessings — even the smallest ones.
Did I mention I get to sit at the big table this year?