A wonderfully sad day


I initially entitled this story “The Five Senses of Thanksgiving,” but sometimes when I write, a story will take me to a different place than even I expect. This one took on a life of its own and, by its end, the title had to be changed. I hope you enjoy this wonderfully sad day.

The aromas of Thanksgiving are unmistakable and often imprinted on a young child’s mind forever. For me, it was the smell of fresh pumpkin pie hot out of the oven.

I was only 6, and it was our first Thanksgiving in our new house at 110 Flamingo Street. That morning three attempts trying to wake me had failed: a pillow hit to my belly, covers pulled off, and dirty socks thrown in my face – all compliments of Twin Brother Mark. But when that smell of hot pumpkin pie wafted in, I was instantly wide awake. I knew it would still be hours before dessert, but the wait would be worth it.

Now, whenever I smell a pumpkin pie, it takes me back to that simpler place and time when we all lived together as a family on Flamingo. Thanks, Mom, for the smells from our first Thanksgiving together. But it’s only the first of the five senses of Thanksgiving — tastes are next.

The tastes from that first Thanksgiving are still the ones I enjoy the most today. It was Dad who cooked the turkey for hours in the backyard smoker. When done, the turkey was always moist on the inside with a crunchy brown skin on the outside. And it was his special deviled eggs, with the bite of onion and sweetness of chopped pickles, which we kids fought over every year.

But Mom was the one who made the tangy cranberry sauce, Heavenly Hash with chunks of sweet pineapple and gooey marshmallows, warm buttery yeast rolls, and her famous spicy cornbread stuffing all from scratch.

Like Dad, I too venture to the backyard with the turkey – not to smoke it, but to deep fry. I also use his secret recipe for the deviled eggs the entire family fights over every year. The Wife makes her cranberry sauce, spicy cornbread stuffing, and Heavenly Hash from scratch. And it all tastes just like it did back on Flamingo. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me those tastes of Thanksgiving.

The visual beauty of our Thanksgiving dining room enhanced the yummy seasonal delights. It was The Sister who washed and dried the delicate 100-year-old Blue Willow — blue and white china depicting hand drawn scenes from the Orient.

It was she who spread the lace linen tablecloth, set the table with plates, bowls, and glasses. She folded matching brown and gold cloth napkins into rectangles before placing polished silver forks and spoons perfectly on top. She helped Mom with the horn of plenty centerpiece and sprinkled brown, bright yellow and orange leaves that my brothers and I gathered from the backyard across the table.

Today our two granddaughters help to set our table with the same Blue Willow china from that first Thanksgiving. Thanks to The Wife, they are learning how to fold the gold and brown cloth napkins and place forks and spoons perfectly on top. They delight in gathering colorful leaves from our backyard to sprinkle across the table.

Hand-drawn stick figure nameplates, each depicting a family member, are adorned with colorful stickers and give each place setting a special look only a child can provide. Thanks to The Sister for giving me the memories of all those sights from our Thanksgiving tables back on Flamingo.

Lastly, sitting around at the table back on Flamingo, seeing and smelling the food in front of us, we gave thanks while holding hands. Our parents would ask us each to look back on the year and, one by one, share what we were thankful for. (That first year, I was thankful I wasn’t caught sneaking one of Dad’s deviled eggs.)

Mom said she was thankful for her family and wished that we would always be able to gather around the table during Thanksgiving. She added, with a loving look at each of us, that how truly blessed we are that we still could. Dad said the same but added that he was thankful that everyone was healthy. As a child, I really didn’t understand why they were thankful for these things, but as an adult I now do.

We will gather around the Thanksgiving table soon and, just before eating, we too will hold hands. The Wife will ask everyone what they are thankful for. When my time comes, I will think back on what my parents said during that first Thanksgiving on Flamingo.

I will say, “I’m thankful for our health and thankful for our family that gathers around this table.” Then, I will look sadly upon the three undisturbed place settings and empty chairs and add, “And I will never forget the three that no longer can.”

Mom, Dad, and Older Brother Richard will be having their own Thanksgiving … as they look down upon ours from above.

For many, Thanksgiving is truly a wonderfully sad time — sad because of those who are no longer with us, but wonderful because we can spend time with those who still are. At our house, we’ll delight in watching children play, gather leaves and help set the table. They’ll sneak a deviled egg or two and argue about who got the biggest turkey leg.

And through the entire day, I’ll tell them stories, stories of our Thanksgivings from a long, long time ago on that old familiar street called Flamingo. And as I do, I’ll smile.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]


  1. Good column Rick. We too have missing family members and my main memory of the last few Thanksgivings we spent with them is the extraordinary effort made to pack up 4 or more people and travel 300+ miles up on Wednesday and back on Sunday on what had to be the worst traffic days of the year.

    I have stated often how happy I am that we stay home these last few Thanksgivings, but it also makes me sad that there is no reason to travel anymore. Live and appreciate each Thanksgiving as if it were your last one. Someday it will.