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Thanks for the memories

The other best part of Thanksgiving, besides the stuffing, are the warm memories of Thanksgiving days past.

Thanksgiving has understandably tough associations for some. Native Americans knew the history behind the holiday was not as straightforward as it was made to seem. Some families have a difficult time together, and that's no fun to dredge up. And for some it can be a sad or lonely time of missing the people who once gathered around the table. But if we keep to the simple premise that it is a day to be grateful for and with the people we care about, the spirit of Thanksgiving survives any tarnish.

This year, especially, we share the gratitude that vaccinations allow us to resume the celebration so badly missed last year. This will be known as the year Thanksgiving came back.

Here are some of the memories that will give me a smile as I make that stuffing. If you are inspired to share your own, you might write it in the comments section that follows the online version of this column on theday.com so other readers can appreciate it.

Turkeys on the way to dinner: It's hard to believe now, with about 35,000 wild turkeys roaming the state, but turkeys were all but gone from Connecticut when state wildlife managers started reintroducing them in 1975. Spotting a live one would have been like seeing an ostrich on the lawn.

A year or so into the reintroduction effort, our station wagon full of kids and aunts passed through Lyme Thanksgiving morning on a circuitous route to West Hartford. Why the driver wanted to go over the river and through the woods instead of straight to Grandma's I have never fathomed. But if he had taken the normal route, we would have missed two wild turkeys strutting across a front yard.

There they were, rare birds, and they weren't going to be served for dinner that day. Perfect.

The year of the veggies: Somewhere around 1970 my father decided it would be Pilgrim-like to have Thanksgiving at the beach — not literally on a beach blanket but at the freezing cold cottage where the water had to be turned back on and the beds — the beds! — were ticking-striped icicles. Those little huts in Plymouth probably did feel like that.

Dad was persuaded to move the dinner to the year-round home of nearby relatives, and it was fun for all except for the youngest, my brother Thomas. While he wasn't paying attention, the other kids transferred the traditional vegetables they didn't like to his plate. Think heaping mounds of rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, boiled onions and a bewildered 10-year-old. He still gets kidded.

Lights on in the dining room. Every year that we New Londoners celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in West Hartford we also drove across town for a visit with the in-laws. It would be dusk by that time. For that one evening of the year, all the blinds and draperies stayed open after the dining room lights went on in houses on our route. I suppose people sat down to eat while it was light out, and were still at the table as darkness fell.

Window after window shone light out into the night and gave glimpses of families who were all doing the same thing on the same time of the same holiday. To me it was more magical than all the Christmas lights that would take over in the next few days. These dinner scenes weren't staged for public viewing, but they were freely shared, simply by not pulling the shades on the outside world.

No strangers at the table. In the newsroom of a daily newspaper, several people always have to work on Thanksgiving. At The Day, two of those are a reporter and a photographer, whose assignment is often to cover a community holiday dinner served by volunteers at a church hall. The story and pictures they bring back capture the kindness of strangers to strangers, and the appreciation felt both by the servers and the served.

Have a good Thanksgiving.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.

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