Family, Wishbones, and Leftovers

by Julie Shields, co-author of Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit with Mia Logan, PhD.

With the holidays fast upon us, I’m reminded of one of my favorite childhood memories. Our family used to celebrate Thanksgiving, not just the day, but the whole week! Our week was filled with family, crafts, and Charlie Brown. One classic classroom craft was the hand turkey:

  • First, each person placed a hand on top of an orange piece of construction paper and carefully traced it with a brown crayon.
  • Next, we’d glue colorful feathers along the traced fingers.
  • Finally, we’d finish it off by drawing a beak and an eye on the tip of our traced thumb.

It was magical how our little hand could transform into a turkey! The best part was showing off our masterpieces to our classmates. Giggles, camaraderie, and joy filled the classroom. Most importantly, we celebrated each other’s work — together.

The night before Thanksgiving, my little sister and I would watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on network television. In the early 1980’s it was the only time of the year we could watch a show and a cartoon in the evening, which was a real treat. We’d get in our jammies and share a big bowl of popcorn. Most importantly, we enjoyed the show — together.

Every Thanksgiving, Mom would cook a feast, and Dad would carve the turkey. He had a special turkey carving kit. It contained a large knife and fork with beautiful wooden handles which were stored safely in a teal fabric covered box. I saw this kit only twice a year, on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Dad would save the “wishbone” from the turkey. He’d clean it and set it out to dry overnight. The next morning, my sister and I would each grab an end tightly with our little hands. Dad would begin a countdown three… we’d close our eyes…two… we’d make a wish… one… as soon as he yelled “PULL” we’d tug hard until the wishbone broke. Whoever ended up with the larger piece was believed to have their wish come true. Most importantly — we wished together.

Over the next few days, Mom would get creative with leftovers and try to disguise the remaining turkey in unique ways. She made pot pies, casseroles, soups, and sandwiches. It all tasted like the same turkey to us, but it didn’t matter. We ate what we were provided. Most importantly — we ate together.

As the years moved on and my sister and I went away to college, Thanksgiving held even more meaning. The crafts were no longer a staple in school, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was an afterthought, but we were always home as a family. It was always Mom, Dad, my little sister, me, and the wishbone. It felt safe and comforting. Most importantly – we were safe together.

Thanksgiving has gotten a little more complex in my adult years. My parents are still together, happily married after 50 years; my sister and I have formed our own families, and boy — how they have expanded! There are now in-laws to split time with, often resulting in two different meals. And, after some time, family members moved out of state spreading apart our once cozy clique.

One year my Mom and Dad came to stay over Thanksgiving. It was a real treat to have them come out to visit. I promised to be that year’s host, so I also invited the in-laws to join us. It was the first Thanksgiving I had ever hosted and I knew it was important. There were nearly 20 people gathered that Thanksgiving. I studied up for weeks how to cook a turkey and make homemade stuffing. It was a lot of work! I was so grateful my Mom was there to coach and cheer me on, and of course, Dad was there to carve the turkey.

Until I put myself in the hostess’s shoes, I truly had no idea how much planning, prepping, and shuffling it took to pull off a successful Thanksgiving meal. I had one oven, four stovetop burners, and a crockpot. All were full and required specific timing. I told Mom over and over how much I appreciated all the work she put into preparing the Thanksgiving meals all those years. In the end, it was a success! I slept really well that night. However, I forgot one important thing, the wishbone. That’s when I realized I’ve lost a bit of what the Thanksgiving spirit was for me.    

That was the last Thanksgiving I shared with my parents, and it’s been years since I spent a Thanksgiving with my sister. Time has flown by. I’ve come to accept that is how it will be from now on. We make the obligatory holiday phone calls and then I gather with my husband’s family for dinner. That’s how holiday celebrations turned out, and I was okay going with the flow.

This year, because of COVID-19, my husband’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner has been cancelled. When I think back to what I am missing, I realize it’s the childhood spirit I had with my parents and sister growing up. It’s always great to have a Thanksgiving meal together, but it’s the magic that surrounded the meal that made it special to me. Sharing the hand turkey with classmates, watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with popcorn, eating turkey leftovers, and breaking the wishbone.

This is the year I will revive the Thanksgiving spirit I lost so many years ago. This year, I truly understand what gratitude is for me. We are alive and well. We are safe. We are loved. Thanksgiving is not just a turkey dinner, it’s an experience. It’s a time to reflect on family and friends. This year I plan to look through pictures, write heartfelt letters of gratitude, and make SEVERAL phone calls to the ones I love.

Card 5: Love Letters
from Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit

We will bring back the giggling, the camaraderie, and the joy. Most importantly — we will do it together.

What traditions or memories will you revive this Thanksgiving?

Look through Thank Forward: A Gratitude Action Kit:

About the Author:

Julie Shields & Mia Logan, PhD

Julie and Mia are Co-Active-trained coaches and businesswomen. Amid life’s ups and downs they found healing through the expression of gratitude. Utilizing life-coaching foundations, they partnered on the creation of Thank Forward to inspire others to spread gratitude. Feel free to reach out to them to learn more about Thank Forward at thankforward.com!