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Ginger Ale Thanksgivings

The holiday season is upon us! Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, filled with the usual hustle and bustle, shopping and music, food and demands to get busy, plays and programs and recitals—have all suddenly exploded onto the scenes of our already hectic lives.

It’s such an amazing time of year, loved by many. But for others, it’s also an emotional time, filled with ups and downs. Feelings of sadness tend to creep up on us as we reminisce on days passed and loved ones we wish could still be with us.

I’ve been a military spouse for nearly nine years, and I have three young sons. A sense of longing for far-away family always fights for my attention in the midst of the holiday business—a longing to live closer to grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and to always be able to spend these times with them.

But I also think back to my own childhood and remember the things that made this time of year special for me. As fun as Christmas always was with the presents, lights, and snow, I remember the Thanksgivings we had with even more fondness.

Me and my sisters, around 1990 (I’m on the far right). “The Good Old Days.”

Most years, we would find ourselves on the road to Erie, Pennsylvania, to spend the beloved Turkey Day at my grandma and grandpa’s house.

And honestly, that was one of the happiest places of my youth.

My grandpa, with his joking and teasing sense of humor, absolutely loved family. He could have a cup of coffee in his hand, a plate of pumpkin pie and butter pecan ice cream in front of him, a card game in the works, and a conversation about religion and politics, and he’d be happy for an eternity.

Grandma was usually in the kitchen, chasing us kids out, making food, and laughing at Grandpa’s silly jokes with a twinkle of admiration in her own eyes for the man she adored.

There was so much love in that house, so much laughter and conversation, and nothing but good memories of growing up one Thanksgiving after another in the house on East 29th Street. Even as an adult, I find myself going back there every single year with a smile on my face.

And always with ginger ale.

Because without fail, Grandma and Grandpa had ginger ale to drink every Thanksgiving. Now, whether it was a drink they always had or they bought it special for that holiday, I’m not sure. But for me, it was a Thanksgiving treat. Years later, I still add it to my list of Thanksgiving fixings: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole…and ginger ale.

My grandpa has passed away, but before Alzheimer’s Disease took him, he was able to walk me down the aisle to the man waiting to say “I do” and to my father who was waiting to ask us if we did. The three most important men in my life were there for me on that day in different ways, and it was one of the last times they were all together in one place.

Now that the holiday season is here, I find myself wishing I could have them all in one place again. How I wish my boys could know that goofy man who would play “penny school” with me and my sisters, who would walk us to the candy store or just around the block! But alas, the military isn’t always conducive to close-knit families.

This year, we’re fortunate to be stationed just a few hours drive from some of my husband’s family, and we’re excited to spend time with them! Our parents and siblings, though, are days away, and it isn’t as easy to make that trip.

I’m sure there are many of you who can relate to this distance problem.

So for military families who are missing our loved ones, who are unable to travel to see them this year, and who tend to reminisce about the “good old days,” how do we keep the same holiday spirit that we felt as children alive for our own families, right where we are?

Here’s what I think…

We need to give them those Ginger Ale Thanksgivings. Or Christmases. Or New Year’s Days. The ones that made us so excited as kids and that still make us smile as adults.

Play the card games, take the walks, and have the conversations that drew you closer to your families and friends back then.

Let the children help sprinkle the tinsel on the tree, if that’s what your grandparents did with you when you were young.

Drink wine with Christmas music turned up loudly as you prepare your Christmas feast, if that’s what your mom did.

Drive the family around to see the lights in your neighborhood, if it made you happy when you were a kid!

And if you opened stockings or one present or all of your presents on Christmas Eve? Do that still!

If my grandpa were still around, he wouldn’t have changed one bit. He’d still be joking around, waiting for company. My boys would have loved him for sure, but they’ve got their own wonderful grandparents instead. And always, they have me.

I truly hope that they get to meet a little of my grandpa through me every holiday season.

Grandpa with my oldest boy

I also hope that when they grow up, they’ll make Christmas cookies and eat popcorn and watch The Polar Express every Christmas Eve because it’s what we do together every year. And I hope that on Thanksgivings, they’ll drink ginger ale…because that’s what their mama did.

Whether or not you still have your loved ones with you, whether or not you’re close to the people who mean the most to you, if you’re mostly sad or mostly happy this holiday season…remember the little things, and try to bring them into your life and the lives of those around you this year.


1 Comment

  1. Sharon Hyde

    That was Beautiful Valerie. I loved being around your grandfather. He always made me laugh. He was the kindest man and he loved Jesus. You were so blessed and now you can carry on traditions that they passed on to you. You are an amazing mother and your children are blessed. I love you, Aunt Sharon♥️


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