Thanksgiving has always meant that pause to celebrate family and all we hold dear for me.

For one day we join together with our loved ones to remember all of the blessings we enjoy the rest of the year, to continue the traditions of a lifetime of Thanksgivings and to make new memories for the young ones.

This year, however, is breaking from that tradition for many families, and yet we need that time to reflect and find the goodness in our lives now more than ever.

We are all struggling with what has become tagged the new normal, but instead I think of as the now normal.

Now normal seems a lot better than new normal, because it means it is something that will pass, that will fade away and we can go back to the old normal, which is where I want to be.

Don’t get me wrong. For all of us 2020 has left a mark that will forever change us. Some have lost family members, some have lost jobs, others friends and opportunities.

But eventually I believe that we will heal, our country will come together, we will move forward in the spirit that is America.

I think it is no accident that Thanksgiving is exclusive to our part of the world. The celebration is unique to North America, to the United States and Canada.

Of course, for America, it is said to have originated with a feast between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, although that history has a darker side that should not be celebrated.

But still, many aspects of the warm holiday it has become over the centuries originated way back then.

While turkey probably did not figure on the menu, there was plenty of corn, possiblY some yams and a deer or two.

For me, the Thanksgiving tradition is all about my mother. Her turkey was actually not that tasty, but her other dishes stole the show.

We always had the same menu, turkey, dressing, oyster casserole, asparagus casserole, brown rice, and canned cranberry sauce. I don’t believe in the 50 years we celebrated Thanksgiving at her house that the offerings ever changed.

And of course there was my grandmother’s pumpkin pie. She and my mother never used canned pumpkin, instead they always roasted halves of fresh pumpkin in the oven and then scooped out the meat, as they said, and baked the pie with that and a healthy dose of spices and other ingredients.

As much as what we ate, it was how we ate it. For at least that one meal each year, we polished silver, got out the best china and glasses, ironed the nicest tablecloth, and made everything special.

I can mark my family history by who was at the table each year. The Thanksgiving after my grandmother died was my son’s first Thanksgiving.

Only a few years later we learned right at Thanksgiving that my father had been diagnosed with cancer, and by the following May he was no longer with us.

But in that wonderful way that life blesses us with new life, and new beginnings, that Thanksgiving following his death, we learned my sister and her husband were looking forward to the birth of a child.

Then there was the Thanksgiving after my mother’s death.

I dreaded it so. How was I going to make her dressing recipe, something so dear, so integral to our family that it seemed eternally linked with her memory. She always had her own way of doing things, just how she liked them. Somehow her Thanksgiving dressing symbolized that.

But as much as I worried, we made it through, and in the process we were able to laugh and treasure all the good memories we had from all the years of her love and care.

This year we will hold on to the memories of my brother, who only recently died. For the first time in my life, he won’t be with me on Thanksgiving.

I think I might have celebrated every Thanksgiving meal with him.

The one Thanksgiving I was not home was the year that I delivered my daughter Ann just two days before. My husband and I decided that he would stay home for Thanksgiving lunch with my family and our son, who was just under 2.

I lay there in Piedmont Hospital, feeling unwell and lonely. But suddenly I heard a knock on my door, and it was my brother Jimmy, who worked as an orderly at another hospital in Atlanta.

He had to work that day and was in his scrubs, but he decided to drop by just to check on me. He ended up eating the hospital Thanksgiving meal they had brought me, and I was not feeling well enough to have.

We laughed, we talked, and that time together became the sustenance I needed that day.

In this now normal, it feels as if we are almost holding our breath, waiting for the darkness to lift and the old normal to return.

And yet, one thing I have learned in life is that we are only guaranteed today, now is what we have, and we must cherish this moment and remember and reflect on the journey so far and the road ahead.

I wish you a blessed and happy Thanksgiving 2020.

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Rebecca Johnston is a native of Cherokee County and a retired managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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