My typical Thanksgiving is fairly chaotic. How in the world can a chaotic day be inspired by the military? Let me explain.
Both my parents are Air Force Veterans. My mom still reminds us that she earned a Marksmanship Ribbon; a feat I fell short of by one measly shot at field training. Grrrr!
From their combined experiences in the military, one would think that our holidays would be more disciplined. That could not be farther from the truth! Every year, our Thanksgiving is different, but one tradition remains the same. This tradition started the year my parent's were married.
In my mother's words,
"We married in September 1979 while still in tech school. We were the only ones in our class (a 9 month training class) who had an apartment and kitchen. We invited all of our classmates and friends to join us for our first Thanksgiving. It was quite a potluck of food and friends."
What started out as a necessity for my parents became our family's standard practice of inclusion. By separating all of those young adults in 1979 (and every year before and after), the military inspired my parents to turn their local friends into family.
From 1979 on, my parents would gather friends who were too far from home to be with their family for the holiday. Growing up, I thought everyone did this. It was not something we talked about. It just happened every year. Our parents’ friends’ became “Uncles” and “Aunts,” and our local family continually grew.
In college, I was close enough to go home for Thanksgiving, but many of my ROTC friends were not. The day before Thanksgiving break, we gathered together for our own “Friendsgiving,” and I thought this was completely normal.
Now that we (the kids) are grown and have our own kids, we still return to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving each year. We bring every friend who cannot make it home to their family for Thanksgiving. As an afterthought, we call and ask if we can bring them along, and always get the same response, “Of course! You know you don’t have to ask!”
As my mom says:
"Since we have always lived away from our families, we invite all of those folks to join us who might be away from their homes. We always have enough to serve everyone!"
Because of this practice, I have gained local "family" members:
1. My "Uncle" Nick - Became a part of our family while my parents lived in Virginia Beach while we were babies.
2. My "Grandma" O'Donnell - Our neighbor from across the street when we lived in South Carolina.
3. My "Great Uncle" John - The former owner of our town's only pharmacy, and now a fixture at all family events. He also spends most winters in my parent's guest room because his house was built a hundred years ago and is not properly heated.
We've also hosted some incredible people:
1. A nurse and her son from Trinidad. She comes almost every year, and I'm astonished at how tall her son is every time I see him.
2. Three siblings from Colorado who happened to be living and/or traveling through the East Coast during Thanksgiving. We later received a thank you card from their parents for welcoming them, and big hugs when we eventually met.
3. A Japanese American actress and paranormal medium from San Diego who has written about acting and the paranormal.
4. A guy who just doesn't want to be around his own family because of all the drama. (He usually just tells them he has to work). My parents ask if he is coming every year. Sometimes, he can handle the drama. Other times, he retreats to our family.
When someone with no military experience thinks of the military, their immediate impressions may be discipline, rigidity, and uniformity. Our military inspired Thanksgiving gives a different impression. It is one of inclusion and the fact that we are all pr