What’s your earliest or most vivid Thanksgiving memory? Have you written it down, or at least told it to someone? These days, with my father suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, I’m realizing just how precious our memories are. It’s a blessing to be able to look back at our lives.
With that in mind, I’d like to share my earliest holiday memory with you. I think I'd just turned five years old. That year, we went to my great-uncle Dwight’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. There’s a black-and-white photograph I saw years ago, with me perched in a step-stool pulled up to the table, but I don’t know where it is now. In my mind, at least, that photo and this memory go together.
Permit me to set the stage a bit. Dwight Ballenger, my grandfather Lloyd’s younger brother, lived in Westerville, Ohio. He and his wife, Betty, had three children, all teenagers at the time, who I didn't really know yet. I saw my grandparents, Lloyd and Nora Ballenger, almost every day. I adored my two aunts, who were in their young 20s. Rounding out the table were my dad and mom, with me and my little brother Eddie, perhaps two years old.
I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
The big kids, naturally, didn’t want me bothering them. The women—including my aunts, who were acting very grown up—didn’t want me underfoot in the kitchen while they cooked. The men were, well, men. Their talk was boring. Eddie and I played together, but we must have gotten too rambunctious after awhile.
Next thing I knew, I was banished to the basement. Where the big kids were.
It was bad enough just walking down the steps. They were the scary kind with no back, just planks. That’s all I remember, until I saw the moose.
The moose was sticking its head through the wall. How fascinating. It kind of reminded me of Mr. Ed, the talking horse on TV. You didn’t see the rest of Mr. Ed, but he was real all right. So where was the rest of the moose?
My cousins helpfully explained that it was standing behind the wall. If I would just walk around the corner, into the dark side of the basement, I could see the rest of it. I might even be able to touch it.
I was hesitant, but my desire to see the moose trumped my fear of the dark room. Around the corner I went.
Of course there was nothing there. So I did what any disappointed five-year-old would do: ran crying to mom.
When my mom went down to investigate what I was carrying on about, she saw only a deer head mounted on the wall. Time for a certain young lady to calm down, go back upstairs and behave herself for Thanksgiving dinner. I think I stuck to my mom like a shadow the rest of the day.
All these years later, remembering that makes me smile. But the memory may not always be as clear.
So this Thanksgiving, I hope my family (including my mom) will indulge me in a little exercise. I’d like to ask each of them to write down their earliest Thanksgiving memory. It’s simple, and actually a lot of fun to do.
Do you have a favorite holiday memory? Take a few minutes to write it down, record it on audio or video, add a note to a photograph, or do something to preserve it. Share it with someone if you can. You'll get to relive the moment, and younger family members might just thank you for it one day.
I’m grateful for many things this Thanksgiving—my family and friends most of all. Time has made me increasingly grateful for the gift of memory, too.
Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,