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My eldest son has been talking about next Thursday since before last Thursday. This Thursday, tomorrow, Thanksgiving, my house will be packed to the gills with family, immediate and extended alike. People will congregate throughout the house, talking to, at, and over each other to create a simmering stew of noise. We’ll graze and drink. We’ll open more wine. And yet somehow, we’ll still have plenty of room for the epic meal that will await us after hours of noble standing around and waiting and asking when do we eat.

Me, I don’t do crowds well, so all this togetherness may well drive me batty, as it usually does. I may have to escape a time or two. My son, on the other hand, loves these big family gatherings, especially when they’re on his home turf. He loves the hugs and the kisses and the attention and showing off his newest artwork or his current favorite toy. If someone is missing, he notices. Simply put, he loves his people. This is my eldest we’re talking about here. My youngest? I don’t know what he’s thinking most of the time. I know he wants a cracker, I can tell you that. Kid always wants a cracker. It’s like being dad to a parrot.

I don’t remember ever really feeling the way my eldest does about family gatherings. From as early as I can remember, extended family was hard. We got together mostly only at the holidays, and even then, it was difficult. Old ghosts seemed to hang over the entire affair, and would occasionally manifest themselves in bitter arguments that were about one thing on the surface, but were really just rehashes of conflicts that started before I was born and that I was too young to understand. Eventually, my mom and I avoided all this drama by keeping the holidays small, often just the two of us, a move that made the holidays infinitely more enjoyable. It seemed a simple enough equation: remove all that family, remove all that stress.

Flash forward to the now. The people that will gather under our roof will not be the same people that made my earliest holidays so tough. My mother will be here, for which I am grateful, but any ghosts that may be floating around have no vengeful agendas, and any stress I might feel on that day is rooted in old hang-ups and a general difficulty with large groups. My sons are blessedly, thankfully free of all that difficulty, free to bask in the love showered on them by doting family.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.