Thankful 2011

I have always said that what I was not blessed with a silver spoon or riches.  However, the lack of wealth was more than generously compensated for in the warmth, affection, unconditional love and feeling of worth and safety that my parents and family gave me.  The older I become, the more I appreciate my upbringing.  I grew up knowing that not only did my parents love me, but that there were a host of grandparents, aunts and uncles that loved me (and on occasion spoiled this middle child).  My family’s constant love, honest love, discipline you in love, restore you in love, admonish you in love, and support you even when we don’t understand your dreams is what makes me who I am.  My dad used to say, “Go away, travel, see the world, it will give me an excuse to visit.  You can always come home, but go and explore while you have the chance.”  The part “you can always come home” was a comfort in case there was anxiety about leaving.  He never wanted me to miss opportunities.
Thanksgiving always reminds me of how fortunate I was to have my parents.  Mind you, the teen years were a little tough but not really.  I had a love and reverence for my parents.  When I became an adult, the parental relationship later matured to one of friendship, but still respecting their title as parent.   I love my parents, sisters (even though they took my things without asking) and I’m in love with my babies (nieces and nephews). My dad passed away unexpectedly and quickly seven years ago.  Holidays can be hard, but the nieces and nephews had such a close bond with grandpa that they made holidays joyful talking about the fun stuff grandpa would do or say on holidays.  After my father’s death, passing on tradition and memories became more important to me.
Thanksgiving is important to me for two reasons: (1) it reminds me of the value of family; and (2) my niece is our thanksgiving baby.  After dad passed, we started a tradition were the nieces and nephews help make a side dish.  It allowed them to take ownership and also feel the pride of hearing “this is good.”  Also, before my father passed my parents started a new Thanksgiving tradition when I was in college.  I call it the un-turkey Thanksgiving.  For years, my mom made the traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.  However, none of us were real turkey fanatics and after visiting both grandparents on Thanksgiving and having to eat at all places, you get turkey-ed out. Plus there was the get the bird before the holiday rush, mom cooking all day.  I think it was my sophomore year in college.  Mom instead made our favorites for Thanksgiving.  We kept the traditional sides (mac-n-cheese, collard greens, green beans and yams), but it was so enjoyable.  We had BBQ ribs, king crab, fried jumbo shrimp, and gumbo – a feast!  We ate our bounty at noon and gladly trotted off to visit family eating their turkey fixings.  From then on, word got out that we had a seafood themed Thanksgiving and all of sudden people started coming by our house on Thanksgiving.
I didn’t go home to Chicago for Thanksgiving wanting to spend more time during Christmas.  I made ribs, mac-n-cheese, brussel sprouts (store was out of collard greens) and fried shrimp. Perfect for me and in my family’s holiday tradition.

I called the birthday girl.  My niece is officially a teenager (they grow up too soon).  I have a tradition with my nieces and nephews that regardless of what their parents do for their birthdays, they have a separate birthday celebration with auntie. When they were younger that meant week long birthday celebrations. As they grew, it became a two day thing with special time with auntie.  Maybe it’s the middle child in me, but I want them to have one day special for them.  This niece is special.  When she was born, my sister said, “I just gave birth to your baby.”  My niece has all of my personality, but she owns it.  Clever beyond her years which occasionally gets her in trouble – she has to learn to hide it.  Since she was little, her birthday celebrations always had the other’s saying “do what you did for her.”  Oh, she plans her celebration at my house with specificity. When she was about 9 our tradition became, I would go to Thanksgiving dinner and she would spend the night at auntie’s so she could go birthday shopping for Black Friday.  A few of my girlfriends would tag along, so they are familiar with this niece and our birthday/black friday tradition. At first it was Target, a few years ago it became Water Tower for Aeropostale, etc.  This year she was very disappointed we weren’t together and she wanted to birthday shop in NYC.  She’s a fashionista but budget conscience.  She has a keen sense of what looks good on her.  That she didn’t get from her auntie.  

While talking to my mini-me,  I could hear all the hustle and bustle in the kitchen from the phone.  After talking to the birthday girl, I inquired about dishes.  The birthday girl has been making potato salad for some years now and she makes it as good as her mom, so that is becoming her go-to dish.  My youngest niece made the sweet potato casserole.  I call her my sous chef.  Christmas Eve dinner is generally at my house.  My sous chef dons her apron and assists me in the prep, cooking and taste tasting.  She is good.  My oldest niece made the Hawaiian salad.  I spoke to my four year old nephew and asked what he prepared.  “Auntie, I am too young to cook, but I can help you bake Christmas cookies when you come.”  He’s a scene stealer and a heart breaker.  My older nephews are officially grownups and were away for the holidays.  However, they made sure to check in with their auntie. J We talked Christmas plans and made sure everyone spoke with the birthday girl.  Even though I wasn’t there, I was able to hear the jokes and hear the sounds of my family’s Thanksgiving.  It’s like Stephanie Mill’s rendition of the song “Home.”  It only takes a phone call to transport me there.

When I think of home, I think of a place
Where there is love overflowin’
Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.