I don't know when it happened exactly, but sometime in my teen years, I became the Official Thanksgiving Table Decorator. I've been a vegetarian since I was thirteen, so the turkey and stuffing part of the holiday doesn't appeal to me. The rest of my family still eats meat, so I might have started this tradition as a reason to escape the permeating aroma of turkey fat that blanketed the house. Or maybe I was trying to get away from my annoying little brother's pranks or the annoying twang of my older brother's Nintendo games.
Anyway, somewhere along the way, the job of decorating the table fell to me. I relished the chance for to walk around in the crisp fall air collecting leaves, pine cones, and other pieces of nature that caught my eye. I would leave the house empty-handed and return with my arms and pockets bulging with my findings. I rifled through drawers and boxes finding the perfect antique lace table cloth or ribbons in shades of orange and burgundy to make the table spread look just so. Sometimes I invited others to join me on my expedition, but I often set off alone.
When my first daughter was born in 2009, I couldn't wait to share this tradition with her. Since she was an October baby, her first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated at a cafeteria with a generous buffet, but by her second, I was able to bring her along on my meandering nature walks. She stared in awe at the beautiful leaves, and I handed her a few leaves to explore (and destroy). I filled the nooks, crannies, and cup holders of her stroller with the twigs, leaves, rocks, and feathers that caught our attention. As we walked, I told her about my tradition and how I couldn't wait until she was old enough to walk with me down the dirt roads and through the grassy fields surrounding the farm where my Aunt Karen lived. She didn't understand all that I was saying, but she parroted back words like, "leaf," "tree," and "feather" in her sweet, heavy-tongued toddler way.
Each year since, she has been able to do more and more to help me decorate the table. She is a collector by nature, like me, and she even lets me borrow from her treasure chest of rocks, trinkets, and pine cones to make the table setting perfect. This year, our first in our new home, we will pillage the back yard and the China cabinet looking for the pieces to fulfill our shared artistic vision. We may bring her little sister along so that we can use her stroller to carry home our finds. Along the way, I'll watch my first baby, Big Sister, pointing out the most colorful leaves and repeating the words slowly and loudly to her little sister.
What started as a way for me to escape my family has now become a cherished way to connect with my daughters. Some day, they may steal my title and go off in search of space and nature like I did. I look forward to that day at the same time that I dread it, but that's part of the bittersweet beauty of motherhood, holding them close and then letting them go.