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  • KD Bryant

Thanksgiving Had Me in My Feelings

On November 8, 1995, I had a strange dream. In my dream, there was a closet with two long rows of clothes on each side. The left side had a top and bottom row. Mom, Granny (mom’s mother) and I stood in front of the closet. Granny walked in and took her clothes down and stepped out of the closet. Mom moved her clothes from the top left side to the top right side, and I moved my clothes from the bottom left to the top left. Then the closet went black. I woke up with that dream heavy on my mind. That morning the phone rang at 7:30 a.m. It was my dad, and when dad calls, it’s serious. I know we had small talk, but all I heard was, “Slim, how are you doing? About to start your day? Listen….” I interrupted. I told him I know. Granny died. When he replied yes, I immediately knew what the dream meant.

My world changed on November 9th. It was my first year of grad school, and the heaviness left me hollow. Knowing Granny wouldn’t be there to witness my life-changing moments tugged at my fragile heartstrings. Six months later, my dad’s mom (Grandmamma Katie) passed away. I don’t know about other families, but losing our matriarchs changed things. Both of my grandmothers sacrificed to keep the families together. My Thanksgivings were centered around my Granny, and every Christmas my dad and his eight siblings and families gathered around Grandmamma Katie’s tree. It wasn’t optional. There was no such thing as my job won’t let me off, I can’t find a flight or I’m going to vacation out of the country. No matter what, you planned for these holidays because it was family, tradition and grace that made it possible.

Over the years, our family accomplished everything our ancestors prayed for and then some. We owned businesses, earned college degrees, served in the military and more. We were successful. With success came more money and with money came the ability to explore more and sometimes that more was travel during the holidays. Sure, the family love remained but the pull to gather together wasn’t as strong, and as the family ties began to excuse an absence or two one year, the next year, there would be more. I missed those gatherings – playing with my cousins, the food, friends, and listening to down-home blues and Motown. Our family gatherings were huge and always included friends. For decades I thought I had fifty-leven aunties and uncles. Our family friends have always been family, plain and simple. During the holidays, cars lined the street as music blared, fish fried and cards were played. There were no formal invitations, no event planners hired and not one RSVP list. People showed up with loud greetings, a brown bag of cheer tucked under an arm, and possibly some bootleg movie or record that hadn’t yet been released. Children supervised themselves, some bold enough to sneak a taste of “cheer” and the cool aunts and uncles pretended they didn’t see it. It was nothing for two or three o’clock in the morning to come before the last guest left and the house slept only to wake and do the same thing the next night. Those are my childhood holiday memories. When I became an adult, I longed for those days.

So when the idea of a grand family Thanksgiving came up this year, I was excited. For the first time, the gathering would be hosted at my parents’ home. The family decided to gather from Wednesday to Sunday, and there was merriment planned every day – Thanksgiving Thursday, Fish Fry Friday, Smokin' Barbecue Saturday and Send Off Sunday! At first, the plans included my mom's and dad’s siblings, and as the weeks passed, it grew to include the siblings’ children, grandchildren and friends. Family traveled from Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi. From the moment the first car arrived, something strange was in the air. Even though nearly 40 people would be in and out of the house, there was an overwhelming peace throughout each day. Some people are frantic when guests come over, but this was different. I don’t believe this blog can do it justice. I’m still at a loss for words to describe what it was like to have my cousins, aunts, uncles and friends in the same place for several days. I was overwhelmed and overcome with joy and peace, so much so that all I could do was float in my feelings for days. I’m still floating. In spite of all the photos, videos and moments, I had no desire to post anything on social media. It was as if I would cheapen the moment with snapshots of what was happening. I wanted to savor it and reflect on it privately with the people around the table. I tried to figure out what it was that had me in my feelings. I believe I did.

I was no longer a child running about the house enjoying my cousins at play. I’m good and grown and my cousins are grown with children of our own. I, no we, had transitioned a generation and this was the first time we were together like this for it to come forth. I fried fish alongside my aunts. I was in the kitchen on a holiday, and in African American families, everybody is not invited nor should they be in the kitchen. I had arrived, baby! While our parents played Bid Whist, we played Spades and everybody was talking trash. There were brown bags of cheer, a margarita station and Chitlin’ circuit blues playing in the background. Yes, we listen to it all, from Marvin Gaye to Marvin Sease. At some point we found ourselves singing five-part harmony Wading in the Water and Swinging Low on the Sweet Chariot. Those spirituals carried our ancestors, many who were slaves, through times when the idea of being together as a family was just a hope and fervent prayer. We went from praising God to playing cards, eating and dancing and we did it big. We’re versatile like that. Not too good to pray and party in the same night because we know when the old people sing, This May Be the Last Time, that it actually could be.

I’m still giddy inside, and grateful that my children finally got to witness what I grew up with as my generation stepped into our adult roles within the family. Even though I'm an adult, I felt the way I did as a child the entire time. Whenever one of the little people came into the garage/makeshift card and party room, at least ten adults would yell, “Don’t come in here! Go play with your cousins!” The adult who took the bathroom break was responsible for checking on the kids before returning to the party. That’s how family rolls during the holidays, and it’s beautiful. My kiddos got to stay up past midnight because their momma was busy trying to set her Spades opponents. We partied hard, but most importantly, we loved!

I still can’t find the words to describe the emotion and feelings that bubble up in me to this day. I do know that this past Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday, it was a homecoming. After years, we were home, together, laughing, playing and loving one another just as our ancestors envisioned. I believe we ushered our ancestors home. I could feel them in every moment. Not only were our grandparents there, but their parents and the parents before them. If anyone passed by our house, they saw cars lined up in back as music blared, fish fried and cards were played. When the time comes for that next row of clothes in the closet to move, I pray this family tradition continues. I hope anyone reading this gets the nudge they need to keep your family traditions alive so that your children always know upon whose shoulders they stand.

This Thanksgiving was much more than a holiday. Our family came Home!

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