My high school girlfriend was a farmer’s daughter. If you believe most country music songs, dating a farmer’s daughter means you spend days fishing together off a pontoon boat, watching sunsets on the back of a John Deere tractor, or driving down an old backroad with dust billowing in the rearview mirror. From firsthand experience, however, I can tell you that country music doesn’t paint a complete picture. For example, they don’t tell you that as the boyfriend of a farmer’s daughter you are automatically recruited to be an unpaid “hired hand.” Or, that square dancing every other Saturday night is not an optional activity. And, even if you are the captain of the high school football team and it is only three hours before the big game, the gutters on the farmhouse still have to be cleaned before sunset…by you…in your white home jersey.
Now don’t get me wrong. Aside from the thick callouses and aching back that you earn from shoveling just about everything from soybeans to manure, there were some perks. For example, Thanksgiving dinner is…special.
On the farm, Thanksgiving dinner typically starts in the living room not watching what is traditionally an uncompetitive football game. Yes, I said not watching. At this particular farmhouse, highly-paid football players and Black Friday commercials take a distant back seat to more relevant discussions of soybean yields and corn prices.
Before long, the inviting aroma of smoked turkey, trimmings, and apple pie begin floating into the room. The arrival of these savory aromas warn that the moment of truth is quickly approaching. Now, I am not referring to the moment when the first slice into the golden turkey reveals how tender and juicy it is. No, I am talking about the real moment of truth for every high school underclassman who is dating the farmer’s daughter. That singular moment not only determines the type of gift you can expect at Christmas, but it also objectively reveals how the family really sees you.
A call rings out from the dining room inviting everyone to take their place. The moment has officially arrived. Like a young deer cautiously ambling into an unprotected field, you approach the threshold of the dining room. Just past the doorway stands two tables. The first is a large wooden masterpiece crafted from fine mahogany. Near the center sits a perfectly roasted turkey flanked by crystal bowls of various sizes. These bowls hold what I consider the main attractions of the Thanksgiving meal: the creamy mashed potatoes, green beans covered with fried onions, sweet potatoes engulfed with melting marshmallows, cranberries that are not molded into the shape of a tin can, fluffy rolls the size of your fist, and hand-churned butter floating over corn picked from a neighboring field. Along the edge of the table, real silver utensils are neatly laid out next to plates that are reserved for this annual meal.
Then, just past the last chair, straddling the end of the dining room and the pantry, you see the other table. This second table is perfectly square and can be easily folded after you have finished a puzzle or playing a board game. The plates are emblazoned with colorful cartoon pilgrims. The utensils are plastic and Tupperware bowls occupy the center of the table. As your eyes scan the infamous kids’ table, your first reaction is to count the number of seats surrounding it.
Where will you find yourself eating this Thanksgiving dinner? Will you make it to the big leagues? Will your silverware clink against the crystal bowls, or will you be cutting your neighbor’s turkey into bite-sized pieces?
Which table would you want to be seated at?
I had always thought I wanted a seat at the big table. But when I finally achieved “crystal bowl status,” I found myself continually glancing back at the kids laughing around the card table. I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy my time at the adult table. But in that moment, I realized that the most important part of the Thanksgiving table is not what is set on it, but those seated around it.
Around tables, we share stories, make plans, celebrate victories, and confess our struggles. We remember where we have been, and we share dreams of where we might go. Sometimes we laugh and other times we cry. And most importantly, we do this together.
For them, I am thankful.