by Kristine Lowder

“Next to Christmas, I suppose you’d have to say Thanksgiving was our favorite time of year,” drawls Earl Hamner, Jr. as he narrates The Thanksgiving Story.

The opening scenes of this 1973 Waltons episode feature quaking aspen filigreed in fall. Cloud-collared mountains. Elizabeth, Jim-Bob and Erin carrying autumnal pumpkins. The story revolves around John Boy, a serious head injury, and his quest for a university scholarship. But it’s the opening scene that grabs me by the collar, slides down my throat, and nuzzles my heart.

What is it about Thanksgiving? The holiday evokes faces and voices from the mists of memory like no other day. In fact, the older I get, the more thankful I am for the faith tradition I was brought up in and the lessons of God’s grace and goodness learned first from my parents, and then my extended family.

Perhaps more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving draws me back to my San Diego roots. To family. And home.

Thanksgiving in San Diego was a day for sunshine and laughter. Searching for snow in the Cuyamaca Mountains. A dash to the achingly blue skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

Thanksgiving was a day for Dad’s fabulous roast turkey, succulent and perfect. The fancy white linen tablecloth. Mom’s lime-pineapple Jell-o mold with walnuts.

The oldest daughter of four children, it was my job to set the oak table in the dining room – the one reserved for special occasions – and to dig out the His and Her pilgrim candles from the bottom drawer of the china hutch.  Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim presided unlit as our wax Thanksgiving centerpieces for years.  (I don’t know what became of them, but suspect they now preside over a big Thanksgiving table in the sky.)

Following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and endless quarters of football, the Naas family gathered to recount our blessings. We held hands around a table groaning with goodness and bowed our heads as Dad said something like: “Lord, we thank you for your bountiful blessings and the many gifts you’ve bestowed upon this house. Thank you for your love, and for each other.  In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

Dad’s blue eyes crinkled as he lifted his head, grabbed the carving knife and grinned. “Send your plates down everybody!  Mom, you’ve outdone yourself again!”  

After dinner we waddled into the living room for our annual review of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Years later, Walton Thanksgiving specials became a family staple.

”How did so many Thanksgivings gallop by since these movies first aired?” I wondered recently. “Where did the time go?”

I don’t remember the years moving so fast in my younger days. After six decades, however, they rush past with avalanche-like alacrity. Just like the holidays.

My son bought me the entire Waltons series on disc a few years ago. All nine seasons. I pop in a disc from Season 2 and watch The Thanksgiving Story every year about this time. And remember.

At last count, Walton Thanksgiving movies totaled three. In one Walton movie, Corabeth Godsey observes, “On Thanksgiving, of all holidays, one should be at home.”  

As autumn glides into winter this year, I find myself at an age where memories stir like Mom’s Jell-o mold. Indeed, November 2019 is a month of milestones. I blow out 60 candles on the birthday cake this year. My husband tackles 65. I look back on 37 years of marriage, four kids, thousands of miles and memories and wonder again, “How did six decades pile up so fast?”

Remembering past Thanksgivings, I sometimes hear echoes of gentle voices. Some have been silenced by the grave. Some have yellowed and are creased with age, whispering on winds that sigh over Cuyamaca Mountains purpled by dusk, or on summer Santa Anas blowing parched and thirsty off the Anza-Borrego desert.

Mom and Dad are both gone now, as are my grandparents, uncles and aunts. So am I, in a sense. More than a thousand miles removed from my Southern California roots, I’m a long way from extended family and siblings. I miss them all and feel their absences most acutely during the holidays. We phone, text, and Facebook frequently. But it’s not quite the same as being there in person.

So when temperatures drop and our lawn dons ice pajamas, memories of Thanksgivings past warm the chill of loss and distance. As autumn ignites alders and aspen and the calendar skids into Thanksgiving, husband Chris and I will gather our kids around the table and remember.

In the meantime, I agree with Corabeth Godsey. Wherever my memories and my loved ones are this Thanksgiving, I’m Home.

A native San Diegan transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, Kristine Lowder is a graduate of Biola University. When she’s not writing or reading voraciously, Kristine enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Chris, and their four sons.