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Joy’s Reflections: The world may be going crazy these days, but our ancestors thought the same. Let’s gather and enjoy Thanksgiving again.

Joy McClain

October 8, 2021

2 Min Read
woman pulling turkey out of oven
THANKSGIVING TRADITION: Families have gathered around the table for Thanksgiving dinner no matter what is going on in the world, and we’ll do it again this year. Lew Robertson/Getty Images

There’s a memory of a festive serving dish cradling a cranberry-colored, jiggling mound covered in chocolate shavings and sprinkles. I was slathering my rolls with butter while thinking to my 10-year-old self that it was a sad waste of a perfectly good Hershey bar.

The dark bits resembled grain-like hairs. I kept one eye on the wobbly alien that looked more like something needing to be smoked and cured while slipping a piece of apple pie on my plate. There were strange sights on tables back in the day — delicacies such as “Ring Around the Tuna” that seemed to be more at home in the abstract art hallway of a museum than on the dinner table.

Gelatin was patented in 1845, almost 20 years before Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation that Thanksgiving would be officially celebrated. Peer into an old copy of any women’s magazine, and you’ll discover countless ads for creating with Jell-O. Apparently, people have been folding weird foods into lime-flavored gel for a long time. Some things just stand the test of time.

Our parents might have sliced into the Jell-O roll, and maybe talked about the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. I was busy tying a jump rope to my baton for a makeshift microphone for the variety show my cousins and I were coming up with. We were too distracted to know the world was going crazy.

As kids, my parents celebrated Thanksgiving amid the Great Depression and Second World War. I don’t know if either of my grandmothers tucked hot dogs, peas or pears into the gelatin, but I know they enjoyed an abundance of homegrown goodness. In lean times, I know the imagination can make sticks and rags into rifles and babies, and my parents were having too much fun as kids to know that the world around them was on fire.

Life cycles continue

Some things just never change, although thankfully what we put into Jell-O does. But what we gather for does not. Within the traditions, smells, tastes and feelings of Thanksgiving is an overarching theme that has survived through many cycles when everything seemed to be turned upside down. Through influenzas, polio, pandemics, wars and economic collapse, we show up to the table and say, “Please pass the gravy.”

My belly is looking forward to participating in a vast array of delicious food this year. But more than anything, I want to experience people pulling up their chairs to the table. I don’t care if they bring burnt biscuits or lumpy mashed potatoes. Shoot — I don’t care if they bring orange turkey Jell-O jigglers. Just come. Eat. Laugh. Let the kids send their cascading crumbs onto my clean floor. Let them play, unaware of the fiery world around them.

McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

About the Author(s)

Joy McClain

Joy McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

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