My family canceled Thanksgiving this year — my favorite holiday since I was a kid.
Usually, 30 to 40 people gather at my parents’ house and sit next to each other at three tables. But in this year of COVID-19 — aptly named, because I and everyone I know has put on about 19 pounds since March — the grand event has been canceled.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, my parents lived in a modest house. We packed people in for Thanksgiving nonetheless, with three tables taking up every inch of space in the dining room and living room. The tight circumstances made the event all the more fun and memorable.
When I taste turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce — the cheap kind in the ribbed can! — I taste the many years of camaraderie and happiness we’ve enjoyed around those tightly packed tables.
I knew as a boy, as I still do now, that the family members around the table were our primary blessings and sources of happiness. As sad as we are that wonderful aunts and uncles have left us over time, we are thankful for the many new souls whose joy has enriched our continually growing clan.
My parents have 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, and we all look forward to hearing stories about what they’ve said or done, often laughing out loud. Their joy fills us with joy.
But there will be no Thanksgiving gathering this year — no laughter around the dinner tables, no catching up as we talk about everything and nothing at all. That’s somewhat troubling because we don’t know how many such gatherings we have left at my parents’ home.
That’s taking a toll on all of us this Thanksgiving, when everyone could use an enjoyable feast to take a respite from all the disruption in our lives and recharge our batteries a little bit.
If 2020 has given us one important lesson, it’s that we shouldn’t take for granted the blessings we still have in abundance. That lesson makes clear that the people who will not sit around the Thanksgiving table this year are what is most valuable to us. This year has reminded us to get back to the basics.
We don't need massive riches to fill ourselves with happiness. To the contrary, material wealth can cause unhappiness — particularly when markets crash and fortunes disappear. Truthfully, Kenny Rogers summarized well the three basic things we need in our lives to pursue happiness: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.
And, boy, am I looking forward to picking back up with my extended family’s magical Thanksgiving gathering next year — to getting back to normal.
Perhaps it takes an especially disruptive year to bring us back to our senses. That’s the spirit in which I’m taking 2020.
As far as the economy and our country’s future goes, my family is as apprehensive about the coming months as anyone. We have experienced lost work and wage cuts, as millions of Americans have.
Though we won’t sit around the Thanksgiving tables enjoying each other’s company this year, we still will be thankful for the many blessings we’ve been given.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.