Turkey and Memories: An NRO Symposium

Michael Novak was asked by National Review Online to shares his favorite Thanksgiving memories as part of an online symposium: "Turkey and Memories, Sharing our Gratitude."  

Published by National Review Online on November 27, 2013

After the age of about three, I guess, I have so many good memories of Thanksgiving: the time of the year, and the wind-whipped, leafless hills of western Pennsylvania; the brisk smell of burnt leaves (in those marvelous days when we could still burn leaves in our back yards); the dull sound of a football in very cold air; mud on one’s shoes from playing in the biggest back yard in the neighborhood; rolling over with the ball in the last piles of oak leaves.

Then, coming in hungry to the unrivaled aroma of long-hour slowly roasting, often-basted turkey with my mother’s specially spiced stuffing, and the scent of the baked sweet potatoes and all the other vegetables being turned on one at a time; the mashing of the milky, buttery, carefully peeled (often enough by me) red-skinned potatoes; the pumpkin pie. And we never had tart-sweet cranberries except at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not least, the attempt to be mindful of all the reasons why people of our country should be more grateful than any other to a good providence that blessed our beginnings – and also to the good people whose virtue and valor won our independence, and who conceived of the structure of the extraordinary civic life we enjoy. As a family with relatively recent immigrants (my grandparents, who in the early days shared these meals with us), we had better reasons than most for gratefully recognizing these blessings. Such blessings are by no means universally enjoyed. Indeed, in many places, barely.

At first it seems odd to have memories most vividly of meals. Yet what would human life be without community, and how does our poor human race better celebrate our close communities than by communal banquets. Food is the great communion of our species: food and the rituals of preparing it and eating it.

One nation, under God, giving thanks together.

I have always thought that the drawback in atheism is not having the one point of union to thank. All the more reason to welcome our atheist friends and family members at the table and give them a hug.

— Michael Novak is author of Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative.