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Traditions are fading away, but memories last forever

I'm not sure if it falls under the category of commercialization or what, but what was once a simple one-day holiday now consumes an entire week - at least according to the calendar under which most area schools operate.

I don't know when it happened - turning Thanksgiving into a whole week off - and I really don't know why. Maybe it has to do with family travel. More and more people have migrated from different parts of the country, and I guess having an entire week off gives folks a chance to get back home for the holidays. Maybe it has to do with boosting the economy. Now we can enjoy those door-buster prices before Turkey Day as well as after.

Maybe it has something to do with boosting test scores, although I don't know what. At any rate, taking the week off before Thanksgiving is another of an ever-growing list of usurpations of tradition. Pretty soon nobody will have a single touchstone left with which to anchor their memories.

My memories of the day are a mixture of mirth and melancholy. When I was a small child, of course, Thanksgiving Day meant drawing pictures of pilgrims and Indians and coloring them with whatever remnants of the previous Christmas's box of Crayola crayons could be found.

When I was old enough to actually attend school we got to make pilgrim hats and Indian war bonnets out of construction paper, although there is no evidence that the Indians around Plymouth Rock actually wore war bonnets. And we would make turkeys out of great big pine cones and, again, construction paper.

Thanksgiving morning meant one thing to me - watching the Macy's parade. It was a really big deal because my daddy and I would watch it together. Some years the Monroe Girls Drum and Bugle Corps would march in the parade, and he would always get mad because the commentators would never pronounce Monroe to his satisfaction. I liked the floats and the big balloons and seeing Santa Claus at the end of the parade. My daddy liked the Rockettes. It took me a few years to understand why, but I finally caught on and now my holiday is not complete until I've seen them line up and do their high-leg-kicking routine.

The midday meal was a grand affair, of course. We usually had chicken instead of turkey because Mama said that turkey was too dry for her taste, but her dressing was beyond compare. In fact, I'd rather smell her dressing, cooking in the oven, than eat most folks' offerings. And her sweet potato pie was as good as anything I've ever eaten. Like most people, we would sit down in the afternoon and watch a little football in between catnaps. I remember one incredible Thanksgiving when the lowly Detroit Lions completely dismantled the mighty Green Bay Packers. I think they actually held them to minus yardage rushing on the day.

When I was a freshman at UGA I couldn't wait for Thanksgiving so I could go home and gorge myself on Mama's cooking. Our basketball coach, Ken Rosemond, had other plans, though. He decided that it would be a good idea to drive over to Columbia, S.C. and play the Gamecocks in a secret practice scrimmage instead of sending everyone home for the holidays. We got trounced in the scrimmage and one of the South Carolina players physically attacked Coach Rosemond. We had hot dogs and sauerkraut that night at a place called Frank'n'Steins. Welcome to the real world.

But that wouldn't be the worst Thanksgiving of my life. My wife's grandfather died on Thanksgiving Day in 1984 and my mother spent her last Thanksgiving Day in the hospital, waiting to die. Unfortunately, lots of people will have similar experiences this year, too. In 1966 my brother-in-law spent his Turkey Day trying to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and this year hundreds of thousands of men and women are spread out across the globe for similar reasons.

On a day that is all about friends and families being together, there are lots and lots of people who are sad, lonely and estranged. I don't know how many people are displaced by the violent storms that swept across our nation this summer and fall.

Like I said, the day can be merry or it can be melancholy. I hope yours is the former, but whichever it may be, most of us have plenty of time to prepare for it this year and I hope everyone can find something for which to be thankful. Personally, my cup runneth over.

Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County, where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net.