Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. If there were a ranking of top holidays I believe Thanksgiving would be one of the topranked holidays. There is a lot to like about Thanksgiving. There is, of course, the food, a smorgasbord of deliciousness. The parades are fun to watch. The fact that Thanksgiving is the only weekday of the year with 12 hours of football on would be enough in my book to allow Thanksgiving to lift the trophy of greatest holiday.
All of that is great, but to me the best part of Thanksgiving is that it allows you to be with family you might not see much the rest of the year. I will be the first to admit most of my memories of Thanksgiving are happy ones. Tomorrow I will experience my 33rd Thanksgiving and the 32 that came before all went well (even the one when I was 7 years old and learned that B.S. meant something other than Before Stephen).
For most of my life Thanksgiving week had the same routine. We had to go to school on Monday and Tuesday. (You youngsters these days are fortunate to get the whole week.) On Wednesday morning the four Whitakers would load up our SUV and trek the 110 miles from Lufkin to my grandparents’ home in Spring, Texas. If traffic was good Dad could do that 110-mile trip in about an hour and 45 minutes. Most of the time it took about two hours. Other relatives would come over in the afternoon to help prepare for the next day. (Most of my mom’s side of the family lived close to MawMaw and Pap’s house).
On Wednesday evening we would usually have someone go pick up fajitas from a Mexican restaurant. After dinner we would settle into the den with Pap to watch the Houston Rockets play. Pap was always a big fan of the Rockets and that was passed down to the grandkids even if he only took one of us to a game. (That will be another column someday.)
At halftime of the Rockets game, Pap would make his way to the kitchen table to make the fruit salad for the next day. The oranges usually came from his trees out back. It always amazed me how he was able to cut up all of that fruit and be back in the den in time for the second half of the Rockets game. In later years he showed my brother and me the fine art of crafting the fruit salad.
Thursday began the same each year. We would watch the Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade and then the Macy’s parade in New York. As family started to arrive, the TV would turn to the first NFL game, always pitting the Detroit Lions against another team. Lunch was usually served in the early afternoon. To this day I am amazed at how we were able to fit so many different sides and people at one table.
After lunch the sides were left usually as they were for a while so that people could graze. It was good to have that system because there was nothing like that turkey sandwich a la roll stuffed with sides after the family football game.
As the years went by and we outgrew both the front yard and the street, the family football game turned into the family nap. Usually that nap was taken during the Dallas Cowboys game. It was easy to do in a house of Oilers/Texans fans.
In later years, when the rivalry between UTAustin and Texas A&M was played on Thanksgiving night, there would be dividing lines. One room became the room where the Longhorn fans watched the game. The Aggies took another room (the only divider being a brick fireplace and two openings that had once been windows). Those who didn’t have a dog—or longhorn—in the fight ended up sitting around the dining room table where there would usually be a game played.
On Friday, while others took part in Black Friday, we would load up the car to drive down I-45 from Spring into Houston for Thanksgiving with my dad’s side of the family at MeMe and Grandad’s house. It was a lower key Thanksgiving than the one we had experienced the day before. After lunch we went back up to Spring for another night of partying at MawMaw and Pap’s house. Some years though, it was back to Lufkin after lunch because we had a playoff football game to attend on Saturday at some exotic locale like Waco or College Station or Huntsville.
So the SUV would be loaded down with our bags and any leftovers that had made it to Friday. Thanksgiving was over for another year, but once again it had been a memorable one.