Holidays are best when family crowds in

Thanksgiving was such a beautiful day that we didn’t spend it watching parades or going to stores on one of the year’s only 365 shopping days. We stayed home, as almost the entire family came over the river and through the woods to our house. We cooked and reheated and ate; and ended the day with the season’s largest marshmallow roast in our backyard.


We broke up tree limbs that had fallen to recent storms. Everyone stoked the bonfire, sending sparks high into the sky each time a branch was tossed on.

The only marshmallows we had were the tiny ones that had been bought to make Watergate salad. We stuck three or four at a time onto a sharp stick, caught them afire and passed them around to adults, children and grandchildren.

We didn’t have the makings for s’mores, so we just dined on blackened marshmallows as we closed ranks on the blaze in the oncoming chill.

After darkness fell on us, the ghost stories began, and several of us took a stab at them. Kids are difficult to frighten these days, though, so after all the ghosts and kid-cooking old witches and hook-handed killers had been dispatched, we turned to memories of the funny things the kids had done and said in their early years. Every family has those tales, though ours seems to have an inordinate supply.

When Emily, now 14, was a little girl, for instance, she told her teacher her father had vanished in a plane crash and her mother had killed herself in grief. (As short-story master Saki said of the tale-spinning girl in The Open Window, “Romance at short notice was her speciality.”) The teacher called Emily’s house to see if anyone was left.

We dredged up illnesses and beach goings-on and the time a glow stick broke open at Halloween, so we poured the eerie green contents onto the back of sheepdog Muffin and he ran through the dark neighborhood, giving trick-or-treaters perhaps their only real fright of the night.

The late, greatly beloved Muffin played into several stories, including the night Emily’s father was young and a burglar broke into the house. As the sheepdog attacked the intruder, his mom dashed into his room and said, “Scooter, get up!” He did – and went straight to the shower because he was a sound sleeper and thought it was simply time to go to school. He didn’t know there had been a break-in until he had dried off.

Tommy, who lives where it never gets cold, rarely sat down Thanksgiving night; he was busy chopping up branches with my machete and giving the fire a boost. He, like the others, took delight in my homeowner’s obsession with making sure every ember was out before we turned in for the night.

The next day, several family members would brave the madding crowd of Black Friday, and after that, children and grandchildren would start returning to their homes. For one day, though, it was the perfect Thanksgiving. I hope yours was just as good.