The Thanksgivings of my childhood were large, glorious affairs, which would not have happened without The Ladies in the Kitchen, hard-working, magnificent cooks, for whom one of the main goals in life was to feed people. Food was love, and the more food the greater the love.
My mother had six siblings, all with families, and four of those families lived within forty miles of each other. So we spent lots of holidays with the whole crowd – up to thirty people – taking turns at each others houses. The assortment of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and cousins-in-law was a wonder to behold. The noise level was prolific, possibly approaching the decibel level of the New York Stock Exchange. People were everywhere, and the living room became an extension of the dining room. And of course the tables sagged under the weight of all the tasty home-grown food from everyone’s farms and gardens. After a prayer of thanksgiving from Grandpa, a prayer that made us feel God’s magnificence and holiness settling over us, we dug in to the bounty, stuffing ourselves to the gills.
In the traditional manner, the men lounged in the living room, both before and after dinner, talking mostly about farming and machines and the price of cattle. The ladies did all the cooking and cleaning up afterward. It was the way things were. But not a bad thing. Because there’s a companionship that exists only among men, and another companionship that exists only among women, and sometimes you need to allow space for it.
The Ladies in the Kitchen were doing more than washing dishes. And they weren’t annoyed at The Men in the Living Room for not helping in the kitchen. After displaying their culinary prowess, the ladies were busy bonding over the gravy-smeared dishes, the crusty baking pans, and the search for enough dish towels, all evidence of the stellar job they’d done feeding everyone. They were a nurturing community, laughing together, sharing news about their kids, and comparing turkey-cooking methods. The mammoth cleanup job was happily shared among women who loved being together. Then, as the shadows grew long and darkness fell on our day of thanks, it was time to get a slice of pumpkin pie and a cup of coffee, join the men in the living room, and keep talking.
I miss those days – the feeling of being part of a huge family, hearing everybody’s story in bits and pieces as I grew up, the tangible evidence of God’s provision, knowing these were my people. Many of them are no longer living, and the cousins have scattered irretrievably. But I gratefully remember the feeling of community. The Ladies in the Kitchen are largely responsible for that.
Time and circumstances have taken me far from those huge gatherings of childhood. I have two children, and they each have two children. A rather small crowd. But food is still love, and community is still important. Because God exists in the community of the Father, Son and Spirit, and we are made in His image, we need community, too. Being in a community, even with just one other person, gives life and health.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of thankfulness. You can be thankful by yourself, but it’s pretty lonely. As I’m reading through the Psalms lately, I’m struck by how often the writer gives thanks in the midst of God’s people, proclaiming God’s goodness in community. Here’s just one example – Psalm 35:18 says “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.”
This Thanksgiving, get yourself a throng, even a small one. Invite a lonely person to be part of your throng. Feed each other with food and companionship and thankfulness. Tell each other your stories. Celebrate God’s goodness in each others lives. It’s what you were made for.
The Ladies in the Kitchen and The Men in the Living room would all approve.