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It seems that retailers, in a rush to sell, sell, sell for Christmas, bury Thanksgiving Day under Christmas musak starting early November,  and layering with the top soil of Black Friday.

Although President George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789 citing November 26th as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks,” it was President Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863 – in the midst of the Civil War.  It is, therefore, appropriate that Spielberg’s film, “Lincoln,” be released this week.  (You can view President Lincoln’s actual proclamation on-line courtesy of The National Archives:

My childhood Thanksgivings were spent at my grandparents’ place, where I enjoyed two traditions.  First, was watching my grandmother smack my dad’s hand when he tried to sneak a couple of olives before dinner was served.  Second, was watching my grandfather lob dinner rolls across the table, instead of passing the basket around, just to annoy my grandmother.

And, of course, there arrived that grand day when I was “promoted” from the child’s table.

With the sunrise, an unspoken, respectful tone permeated their home, historically created with love, and memories.  Thanksgiving was imbued with a deep, rich, ambiance.

It was a similar tone that Lincoln wanted to provide; a respite from the bitterness and anger amongst citizens, and families, during a tumultuous time in this country’s history.  This day has been set aside to reflect on our gifts; whether you spend the day with friends, families, or solitarily; dine on turkey, ham, or vegan.

The world is a living, breathing, cornucopia of accessibly interesting places, people, and stories.

For that, I am truly grateful.

Great-aunt Jessie was a character.  She had her own ideas about how life worked, and everyone was expected to conform to them.  For instance, if she invited you over for dinner, you knew that you had to bring the food, cook it and then clean up afterward.

Here are a few anecdotes from various relatives:

One time, she was here visiting and she told me to bring her to a friend’s house for dinner.  I asked, “When is she serving dinner?”  She said, “I don’t know.”  “Didn’t you ask?”  “Probably 6:00.”  We got there, and no one was at home.  They didn’t know she was coming.  So, then she said, “Bring me to so-and-so’s.”  “Well, they don’t know you’re coming, either.” She was quite the Jessie.

Her wig always seemed to change direction.  One time, it was so windy, her wig blew right off, and traveled down the street like a tumbleweed.  She was yelling at me to get it, and I was trying not to get hit by cars.

When she backed out of a driveway, she would count to three and go, whether there were any cars coming or not.  And, the turn signal in her 1949 Studebaker didn’t work.  Instead of putting her arm out the window to indicate she was turning, she would just put out a hand and wiggle her fingers. 

Jessie was complaining that her shoes were untied.  Well, her shoes were buckled, so they couldn’t possibly be untied, but Oscar said, “Come here and tie Aunt Jessie’s shoes.”  So, I pretended to tie her shoes.

I remember when she went for a long walk, and then realized she’d have to walk back.  So, she walked up to a stranger’s house, knocked on the door and asked them to drive her back, and they did!

Jessie could be irritating and frustrating, but we loved her.  As a personal historian, I have worked with families who were unwilling to talk about relatives who didn’t “fit in” with the rest of the family.  It’s a shame, really, because I see those relatives as rough cut, unpolished jewels; gems who can sparkle when regarded with the right light.

My cousin is considering writing a couple of children’s books based on Jessie.  I think it’s a fabulous idea. 

This Thanksgiving, I will be expressing my gratitude at having been born into a family with diverse viewpoints and perspectives; who are willing to spend time outside of the box to appreciate the complexities of life.  But, most of all, a family who loves one another unconditionally, regardless of the eccentricities that may reside in each of us.

What stories do you have to share about your eccentric relatives?

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Joe audrey pop virginia 1949For some people, spending time with family during the holidays does not warm the cockles of their hearts.  There are arguments, disputes, old resentments resurface, lives are judged and criticized, etc.  There is a way, however, to ease the emotional pain of the holiday season. 

Who, in your family, is sincerely cherished by all; someone who is truly respected and held in high regard?  Consider giving a tribute to him or her this holiday season.  A tribute is something the entire family can be involved in, both separately and together. 

When I am hired to put together a personal history, every single person in the family – even the ones who aren’t speaking to anyone – happily donate their time for an interview, because they want to preserve that relative’s memory.  They actually move beyond their issues with the family, and focus on the much loved relative.  When the book is complete, relatives read about the special memories others have – some unique, some shared – about the same individual, and the fondness they once had for each other rises up above the old grudges and disputes.  A healing begins to grow, working its way through each branch and leaf on the family tree.

You have the ability to create a powerful gifted family legacy for future generations.

It begins with one.

Whose life story could you preserve that would reconnect your family?

You Are A Classic

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