Memories smell like turkey

September 16th, 2014

Last time, I talked a little of how old has gotten from being something important to being something to avoid. Old has migrated from being an integral part of life where the reward for being old was to be cherished. It has fallen from the heights of recognition to the loneliness of abandonment. From the vantage point of our isolation it is difficult to span the growing chasm that keeps us apart. On the other hand…

Life is also richer because of the depth old brings to it. As a child I really enjoyed Thanksgiving and fondly remember some of the very first ones I was privy to. The family was together. The smells of turkey roasting were wonderful. The mashed potatoes squished and “peaked” just like they ought and Gramma’s cornbread dressing and gravy were to moan for. There were football games for the men, kitchen duties for the women, and, if lucky, the kids wandered in the woods of a Thanksgiving afternoon to find black walnuts. The experiences went on and on. The following year was the same: Another helping piled high on a plate of strong memories.

In my house today Thanksgiving is much the same. The women may like football more and the men are more likely to help in the kitchen, but… There is still family, turkey, mashed potatoes. The smells and sounds cherished through the decades are anticipated eagerly. For me it only takes a whisper of the word Thanksgiving or the smell of turkey cooking to start the salivary process; I drool! And, if that’s old age, dish it up! Just a soft rustling will trigger a memory stream that curls a wandering path through the years and decades. I have a long string of these memories with each Thanksgiving–pearls piled one on another. I can transverse the string to remember it all. I can re-experience the richness, the good and the bad–yes there were years when Thanksgiving did not live up to the memory.

But it is only on this end of the string that I can hope to enrich the experience for others, for my family. I know how deep and meaningful events like Thanksgiving can be particularly if memories can blend with the current practice. And today’s event with all of its past memories gets transformed into a promise for the future. Past. Present. Future. I’m helping my family build their own string of memories that reach through their lives into their future.

So what have you done to help create a memory string of your own?

Don’t wait on an invitation. If you don’t have a place to go, make a memory where you are. You don’t have to prepare a big meal; many vendors are happy to do that for you. You don’t have to have a big family. You don’t have to limit what you do to family, either. And you don’t have to do it at your house! I know a family that cherishes their memory string at a particular restaurant.

Start with what you have. When in graduate school, my classmates came from all parts of the country and had all kinds of Thanksgiving traditions. None of us could afford to go home for the holiday so we built our own event. We brought our traditions together. We shared a meal and laughter and talked a little of what we found important in the traditions we came from.

Build in ritual. For me, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. Turkey shows up. Every time. What shows up for you? And remember, smell is a memory link that keeps similar events tied together in your head.

Invite the young. Make sure that coming generations are included in your meal. If you are allied to a university, you can find students without a place for the holidays. You probably have acquaintances at the gym, barbershop, or elsewhere that have no place. Make one for them.

How is your retirement going? Got any stories about traditions you hold important?

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