Column: Sharing Thanksgiving

By Acton Gorton

In my younger years, I remembered Thanksgiving as being a huge feast with the family. It was the one holiday of the year my father loved because it meant he didn’t have to go bust on buying toys or presents for everyone. It also served as the best opportunity for the extended family to be together.

On some years, if we were lucky, there would be two feasts: one on Thanksgiving and another a day later to make up for the family that didn’t get to see each other; a reunion of sorts. As a young child, this was very exciting. First I would enjoy the autumn fun of playing in the leaves when I lived in Cincinnati, and then my family would travel to the Mississippi Delta to see my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

I still remember those calm fall evenings in Mississippi at Aunt June’s house. There was always some strange family drama with my sister and a particular cousin, my dad always tried to coordinate a family photo because he was a photographer, and my Aunt always tried to serve me second and third helpings. After the festivities and into the evening, if I was lucky, I’d get a chance to hang out with older brother and cousin. They were always up to no good so it was fun to see them get into trouble – especially because I was too young to get blamed for anything. It was all a very picturesque in my memory.

But somewhere along the line, just over ten years ago, my parents started to hate each other and shortly thereafter divorced. The first couple of years I was still in high school so there wasn’t much choice for how to spend my holidays. I lived with my father at the time, so we would continue back to Mississippi to see his family for Thanksgiving. Everyone would try to act normal, but somehow the conversation of my mother always surfaced. It was difficult, but bearable because I think kids have a better ability than adults to adapt to unusual situations. As long as I had something to keep my mind busy and plenty of food, then there weren’t any problems. This went on for another three years.

When I graduated high school, I went straight into the military. It was an opportunity for me to delay going to college, to get serious about my life, and forget about all the problems at home for a while. So for three years, or three Thanksgiving’s, I managed to avoid the conflict of which parent to spend Thanksgiving with. My justification was simple. Since I was driving from Fort Bragg, N.C., my father’s home in Carbondale was much closer than my mother’s home in Memphis.

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But after I finished my military obligation, things got hairy again. Every year I must decide which of my parents I will spend time with. Thanksgiving still remains my father’s holiday of choice, but my mother feels neglected. This year, I haven’t made up my mind yet as to which parent I will spend time with. I wish it was as easy as being able to spend time with both, but that isn’t a possibility.

I expect this to be a problem that will never fully resolve itself. Divorce always ends on an ugly note and there will never again be a full family Thanksgiving unless it’s my own family. I’m sure I’ll have to figure out which Thanksgiving to take my kids to, when that happens. For now, I suspect I may go straight down to Memphis and see my mom. I’ll probably spend the first half of the week with her and do some deer hunting. Then, on about Wednesday or so, I can get back up to Carbondale and see my father. I’ll get a chance to play with the dogs and see my step-sister. I think I can get away with it this way because last year I spent Thanksgiving with my mother. So staggering seems to be the best way of dealing with the holiday’s. In the past, it’s been successful with deciding who to spend Christmas and New Year’s with. I can avoid hurting feelings and fostering parental jealousy. Admittedly, my father is a much better cook, but to me Thanksgiving is no longer about the food, it’s which parent I will spend the holiday with.

Acton Gorton is the managing editor of the Daily Illini and a Senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]