The rather cynical idea that Thanksgiving should be not about what we have to give thanks for, but rather remembering what we have lost is counterintuitive to what I love about the holiday.
But when I read that idea in an article written by someone with totally different life experiences from my own, it stuck with me.
Over the years, the holiday has evolved for me, and the memories I have of all the past holidays are both precious and bittersweet.
Thanksgiving serves up the memories of my childhood, the food my mother always prepared with such love and pride, the times my brother and sister and I were all warm and safe and innocent.
It stirs memories of harder times. The year my father had just been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and we knew it would probably be his last at our family table.
The holiday also brings bittersweet memories, like those of the following year when my father was no longer with us, but my sister announced she was expecting her first, and it turned out her only, child.
We felt we had a lot to be thankful for that year, even in the midst of still missing my dad so much.
Thanksgiving charts my own journey to adulthood from the days when my mother prepared the entire meal to the time when I took over the cooking.
My mother always loved to cook, and Thanksgiving was the time she would shine the most. Her side dishes were legendary, her dressing the piece de resistance of the holiday meal.
I never worried in those days when I was a young adult about how it all magically appeared on the table, I would just sit down and enjoy her feast.
But as she got older in the years I was a young mom myself, I slowly took on Thanksgiving. At first we just moved it to my house and I cooked the turkey, while she brought the side dishes she had prepared at her house, including her wonderful dressing.
Then, as transporting so many dishes became more difficult for her, I began to cook more and more of the meal. But never the dressing.
She would always prepare that and we all looked forward each year to its delicate textures and flavors.
The year after she died I felt lost. But with help from my sister, who in her usual organized fashion had actually written down my mother’s recipe, I was able to prepare the dish.
Of course, it is never quite as good as when my mother made it. What ever is? But it always reminds me of her in a quintessential way, since the way she demonstrated her love for us was through her cooking.
Then there was the Thanksgiving my youngest child, my daughter Ann was born. I spent Thanksgiving the hospital, but it was a joyous time when our family was expanding and I had so much to be grateful about.
For all of us, and perhaps especially those who grew up in the mid-20th century, Thanksgiving will always be a time to give thanks.
Parents who returned from the war, who understood how fragile life was, how precious our country and our freedom are, how fortunate we are to enjoy the bounty of our nation, passed those values on to us along with the dressing and the gravy.
Thanksgiving tradition is just that, a time-honored ritual that celebrates our thanks to our God, the love of our family and the appreciation for all our blessings.
This special day each year, no matter where and how it is marked, is a time to remember how fortunate we are, whatever is happening in our lives.
It is a time to look behind us and be reminded of our past blessings, to take stock of the present and to look toward the future.
The tradition of Thanksgiving is what defines our country and event in these unsettled times, it is a season indeed to give thanks.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.