The Changing Definition of Family

By Jennifer DeCuir, author of Drawn to Jonah

Drawn to JonahWhen I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant getting together with family. My dad’s side all lived locally and my mom’s side was only a few hours up the coast. I remember my grandmother’s apron, something she only wore on Thanksgiving and Christmas but looked so good on her I wished she’d wear it all year long. I remember the women gossiping in the kitchen. My grandfather snoring in his recliner after one too many helpings of turkey. I recall one very snowy Thanksgiving spent with cousins and a spectacular snow ball fight.

But now that I’m grown up and living on the other side of the country, Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning. Or perhaps I should say that my definition of family has changed. My grandparents are gone, my parents as well. My sisters are lucky enough to have oodles of in-laws to share their holiday experiences with. When my husband and I moved to WA, we left his family in CA and mine in New England. We were on our own… sort of.

Preceding us to the land of Bill Gates were a group of my husband’s friends from college. They had been here for years before we arrived and welcomed us into their tight-knit group with open arms. It was comforting to know that we had a new support system. We weren’t blood relatives, but it didn’t matter. We were all there for each other.

One of these friends was kind enough to host what he called “the orphans” or “the refugees” — those of us who didn’t have a big family to spend Thanksgiving with. He made the turkey and the rest of us brought a side dish or dessert. One or two things. The cranberry sauce was always the same recipe. Can’t mess with that. But every year there was a new array of yummy dishes that we couldn’t wait to try.

There have been new faces added since we moved here seven years ago. Several marriages and lots of new babies. Our son arrived one week before Thanksgiving five years ago. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to know that we had a place to go and that I was not solely responsible for feeding my family that year.

Some people have moved away and no longer attend our Thanksgiving celebration. But the core group remains the same. Our new family.

The traditions aren’t the same as when I was growing up. We’re a younger crowd, and no one falls asleep in their chair. There are a lot more kids. There is a dog looking for stray table scraps. It’s a rowdier get together with lots of chatter, good-natured ribbing and even a Dance Party dance-off. And the best part about it is that we have a place to go. A place where we belong.