The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

October 5, 2006


The gorgeous woman above is my grandmother on my mom's side -- Nanny, we always called her -- and she died almost 20 years ago. She's here because as we Canadians head into our annual Thanksgiving Day weekend, I've been thinking about her a lot.

She moved in with us when I was about 10 years old. I'm the oldest of six kids in my family -- two brothers and three sisters -- and she had a profound impact on all of our lives.

She was a 5-foot-nothing whirling dervish with a French-Canadian accent, a wicked sense of humour, a temper you wouldn't believe and, primarily for the purposes of this post, an incomparable cook.

A diehard fan of hockey's Montreal Canadiens, she and I would sit and watch Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night -- me cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs, her for Canada's team based in French-speaking Quebec.

I teased her, incessantly. Pinched her bum. Turned her swivelling rocker chair around so she was facing the corner. Feigned karate and tae kwon do kicks at her, inches from her nose. Mocked her mispronunciation of English words.

She loved it all. Cherished it. Lived for it, truthfully. "Hass-hole!," she'd laugh in her semi-English. "Eh?" She could barely hear for the last 10 years of her life. "Hi'Im Heighty Two year ole! Go to Ell!"

She'd pretend to be mad, but couldn't stop us from making her laugh. "Hass-hole!" And then she'd break out in a grin and shake her head.

As the former head cook at one of Winnipeg's largest hospitals, she took it upon herself, naturally, to become the head cook and cleaning poobah in our nine-member household. And every birthday, every Christmas, every Easter, every Thanksgiving was her time to shine.

And that she did. She'd absolutely insist on buying the biggest Thanksgiving turkey at the Safeway store, and delighted in asking each of us kids what WE wanted. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. Potatoes with cheese. Almost incalcuable varieties of veggies.

Ham, too. That gross sauerkraut (I love it now). Those inserts for our dining room table would have to come out, and she'd always get me to set the table, just the way she wanted it. By the time I was finished, the table was about 12 feet long. Not nearly big enough.

Because she and my mom would invite 10 or 20 people to come dine with us for Thanksgiving. It was a madhouse, but it was a lot of fun, and that's just the way it was in our three-storey, blue and white house at 196 Kitson Street.

My friends and my siblings' friends and some of my parents' friends and sometimes aunts and uncles would be there, all rubbing shoulders and telling jokes and laughing and eating all this unbelievable food, while Nanny would stand off to the side, contented, wanted, needed.

A smile on her face, waiting for the main course to disappear and for her to bring out the pumpkin pie with whipped cream and the spice cake that she knew was my favourite. I do miss her incredibly but I smile when I think about her.

It's a beautiful memory of beautiful times. And so while things have changed a whole lot since then -- I still drive by that old house whenever I can, it's now grey and white -- this is Thanksgiving 2006.

And for those outside Canada, there's a little Wikipedia thingy on North American Thanksgiving below. The U.S. celebrates its Thanksgiving in November. We celebrate ours on the second Monday of October. Go figure. I don't know about similar celebrations elsewhere.

Thanksgiving is about turkey and stuffing and bounty and just plain old down-home family values of togetherness and gratitude. And those are some of the things I'm going to be thinking about over these next few days. A bit of it is illustrated here:

I've never really figured out whether I thought turkeys were exceptionally ugly or truly breathtaking, really...

Here's my date for the weekend...

Here's what she's going to look like by Monday, however...

I'll be thinking of you all this weekend. Take care.

Thanksgiving in Canada
The first and original Thanksgiving comes from Canada. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Unlike the American tradition of remembering Pilgrims and settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada.

In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America.

Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay.
At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed 'The Order of Good Cheer' and gladly shared their food with their Native-Canadian neighbours.
After the Seven Year's War ended in 1763 handing over Canada to the British, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving.
During the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal (United Empire Loyalists) to Great Britain were exiled from the United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada.
Eventually in 1879, the Canadian Parliament declared Nov. 6 a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday in Canada. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October.

After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which Nov. 11 occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.
Finally, on Jan. 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed...
"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."
The first Thanksgiving Day in Canada after Confederation was observed on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness. Before then, thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year but the date was proclaimed annually and changed year to year.

The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed year to year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary.

After the First World War it was for Armistice Day and more recently and including today it has been a day of general thanksgiving.