Sometimes visiting someone else’s home makes me nervous.
Everything is so beautiful, so clean. I can’t really relax for fear of staining the carpet or lumping up the sofa cushions.
My home is almost the opposite, with too many pets and rambunctious kids and perpetually sticky. But when I’m in a home that’s truly welcoming – clean enough, but not too perfect – it’s so easy to enjoy the visit.
My family has always spent Thanksgiving Day at a welcoming home. Even before I was born, my dad and his cousins gathered at Uncle Russell’s and Aunt Vernie’s for a potluck dinner.
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They all lived in the same community, many on the same road, raising a combination of strawberries and tobacco. Some worked in town at the Lorillard plant or at a regular 9-to-5 job.
But on Thanksgiving Day, all of us headed up the steps into Aunt Vernie’s kitchen with a plate of venison, or a bowl of cheese-topped mashed potatoes, or one of a half-dozen sweet potato casseroles.
Vernie didn’t care that most of us had to park in the grass or that the kids would track in dirt and crunched-up leaves all afternoon. My cousin Jennifer and I would sneak back to one of the bedrooms after the meal to admire Aunt Vernie’s lovely vanity, with its mysterious powders and cotton poufs.
Everything spoke to mid-1960s elegance. In the den, the dainty sofas of avocado and goldenrod gathered around a cabinet TV were still sturdy enough to hold my hefty farmer uncles while they balanced an overloaded Chinet plate and a huge cup of sweet tea.
Vernie did remodel her kitchen once, not because she was concerned about the style, but because a careless driver plowed through her yard in the middle of the night and crashed into the kitchen. Oddly, it was the night before Thanksgiving. And it was the only time we ever moved the family gathering; down the road to our Aunt Opal’s house.
I suppose I could say that moving didn’t make a difference. The same people were gathered on the same day for the same purpose. And the house, while different, was still a comfortable one. We just weren’t used to it.
Were we allowed to play in the bedrooms? Would the kids and dads start a game of football in the back yard? The next year, and for many years afterward, we were back at Vernie and Russell’s.
I suppose Thanksgiving, and the house we’re in, shouldn’t be such a big deal. Our Thanksgiving Day routine has become so familiar that I can almost pinpoint the moments when my dad will begin to hover at the appetizer table, or when our perpetually tardy cousins will arrive from Kannapolis, or when my kids will declare that they are going to “starve, Mommy!” if they have to wait one more minute to eat.
The thing is, most of us cousins don’t live in the same town, much less on the same road, anymore. We have our own family obligations for other holidays, so Thanksgiving Day has become a family reunion.
The only other times we see those cousins are at big life events: weddings, funerals. This summer, Aunt Vernie, a widow for several years, died. At her funeral was a lovely slide show her grandchildren had assembled, showcasing her and Russell’s life together, their early days of farming, their girls at various ages, their home when it and the avocado sofas were brand new.
And although it was months until November, we began to wonder: Where will we be for Thanksgiving?
Other than the year the car crash sent us all down the road to Aunt Opal’s, we haven’t had to wonder that for 50 years. If I didn’t live two hours away from most everyone, I’d offer to host – and try not to worry about the mess.
But I know we’ll find a new home for Thanksgiving. Knowing my family, it will be a relaxed, welcoming one. Year after year, that’s what I’m most thankful for.