As holidays go, Thanksgiving is pretty consistent. A feast of food, family and football that arrives on the same day every year with weather that seldom varies.
It's a holiday of traditions, where sameness is treasured. It's not a time to experiment -- no need to replace the turkey with tofu or the carrots with some exotic vegetable -- or deviate from the plan. The TV needs to go from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade straight to football followed by more football, just like God intended.
You should eat more than you know is good for you, then add one more plate for good measure. You should fall asleep during the end of the first football game, awaken during the start of the second and make sure that you follow your main meal with that dinner/snack deal at the end of the night that leaves you with a love/hate relationship -- love for the amazingly good food made by others and hate for the gluttony you brought to the table all by yourself.
Thanksgiving is one of those more-the-merrier times (for both food and company), which is why it brings back so many good memories. I was lucky enough as a child to live near a large part of my extended family, which meant Turkey Day meals that extended out of the dining room and into the rest of the house, with card tables as prevalent as the various pies. Those meals also featured a plethora of food made by my great aunts in addition to my grandmother.
In those days there was no such thing as "The Iron Chef," but family get-togethers like Thanksgiving seemed part celebration and part competition. Was that Aunt Ethel's pie? Or Aunt Faye's? Were those my Grandma's noodles or did someone else make them?
Would I like seconds? Yes, please.
The large gatherings made it tough to find a good seat for the meal but easy to pick teams for backyard football. Nothing like a little passing and running to work up an appetite for a second round of dining pleasure.
Football was the centerpiece of what was probably my favorite Thanksgiving. Growing up, I had an aunt and uncle who lived in Dallas, Texas. Each year my maternal grandma would fly to the Lone Star State for Thanksgiving, and she started a tradition of her own: Taking one of her grandchildren along each year. It's a big deal to get to go anywhere when you're a kid, but the biggest thing for me was what went with the trip -- the chance to watch the Dallas Cowboys play their annual Thanksgiving game.
Thanks to Grandma Elsie, my first NFL game coincided with Thanksgiving Day 1979, with the Cowboys playing the Houston Oilers. I remember being so excited that the Thanksgiving meal was a formality, something to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I assume someone took my temperature when I declined a second helping of anything.
All I wanted to do was get to the game. And when I finally did, I couldn't believe how big Texas Stadium looked, or how great it was to be at the game that I had seen on TV so many Thanksgivings before. It's probably the only time I savored the chance at a not-so-normal Thanksgiving.
But what is normal? As much as we like, maybe even cling to, sameness, time has a way of bringing change whether we plan it or not. But while the large gathering may dwindle and the backyard football cease to be, the tradition of thanks continues.
Now, please pass the gravy.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.