By Anna Larson
& Guest Blogger
One hundred guests showed up every year to my childhood Thanksgiving feasts. My mother is one of nine children and I have 60 first cousins. grandparents, children, spouses, and grandchildren. When you add in friends, you can see how we quickly arrive at 100 people.
We held our festivities at the local high school where my uncle was a teacher. They were kind enough to open their industrial-sized kitchen, classrooms, and gym as a place for all of us to gather and enjoy our Thanksgiving Day.
My Thanksgiving holiday was spent playing basketball, smashing pinatas, and racing my cousins for candy. We watched a variety of VHS tapes that always seemed to be musicals and spent time planning what my talent would be at the annual Thanksgiving talent show, which was the final hurrah of our Thanksgiving Day.
I took for granted the turkeys, piles of mashed potatoes, casseroles, and green beans that seemed to magically appear when Thanksgiving dinner was served. My grandmother loved frog-eye salad, so my mother made that dish every year. My Aunt Sandy made mountains of potatoes. Aunt Darlene brought the mothball salad. Aunt Dede and Uncle Lee deep fried a turkey that disappeared in minutes. The desserts and pies were plentiful and nobody ever left hungry from a “Butler Thanksgiving Bash.”
It’s the time of year when the air turns crisp in the morning, the leaves change colors, and pumpkin spice hits the supermarket shelves. As I sift through the recipes that have been passed down, I am overcome with the nostalgia of my childhood and the love that I felt spending time with my family.
Holidays Celebrated Military-Style
I used to feel guilty about my children missing out on traditions like our Butler Thanksgiving Bash. As a military family, our PCS moves were always between November and February. Between deployments, TDY’s, and intercontinental moves, our holidays were often approached with a “do what you can with where you are” style.
One year, we ate at the dining facility on post because my servicemember was on duty. Another Thanksgiving was spent with a sick baby in a hotel room feasting on crackers, cheese and vending machine chips. On another Thanksgiving, we had PCS’ed just six days earlier and knew no one local. We spent that day at Shoney’s, the only restaurant that didn’t have a three-hour wait.
As our military journey continued, I learned that despite the circumstances we could always still have our own family traditions that bring feelings of love, laughter, and gratitude into our home.
Each year, our Thankfulness Tree hangs on a wall. Everyone that enters our home, hotel room, or temporary living space is welcome to write a message of gratitude on the leaves.
We watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving as a family while eating two slices of buttered toast, some pretzel sticks, a handful of popcorn, and a few jelly beans.
On Thanksgiving Day, we invite friends that are as close as family to share our meal.
If you find yourself feeling a bit sad or nostalgic for missed traditions, family far away, or less-than-ideal living quarters, remember that while our military life did not always look like a traditional Thanksgiving and did not reflect the abundance found in the Butler Bash parties of my youth, they were always built around gratitude for family and friendship, two things I am most thankful for.
About Anna Larson
Anna is a copywriter and digital marketing strategist, and owner of NomadAbout, a digital marketing strategies company that helps entrepreneurs and other business owners showcase their organizations through social media, websites, and marketing campaigns what they are passionate about and how they do it better than anyone else. She is active in the military community, co-hosting a weekly business-oriented livestream and co-leading the Fort Hood Cha Chapter of the Association of Military Spouse Entrepreneurs.
Europe, Africa, and the United States, her family made the leap into military retirement. Anna is also a SpouseLink Ambassador with two kids and two dogs. She’s a long-time homeschool mom that loves dance parties, popcorn, camping, and snorkeling in the ocean. In her spare time, you’ll find her traveling the world with her family, relaxing around a fire pit, or on a long walk with her pups.