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To have a "perfect" Thanksgiving, focus on what really matters: the mistakes

JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. -- If you want the perfect Thanksgiving, remember this: what time you eat doesn't matter, the table setting doesn't matter, who wins the football game doesn't matter, and most importantly, the food doesn't really matter. What matters are the shared moments with our friends and families, and the warm memories that will live on in those around us. Very often, these memories are born in the ashes of turkey failure and side dish catastrophes.

Think about your most memorable Thanksgivings. If you're like me, not a single "Norman Rockwell" holiday comes to mind. Actually, some of my most treasured memories are of Thanksgiving imperfections, calamity and complete culinary failure.

The two Thanksgivings I'm most fond of were far from "perfect." During the first, I was young and a winter storm knocked out power all over the city. I'm sure my grandmother had visions of a flawless family meal for 20 people earlier that morning. However, when we all went to bed that night, her creativity with candles, heating cans, potted meat and leftovers from the fridge left an indelible mark on all of us.

My second came while deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. Every soul there longed to be home with his or her family, but our camaraderie would help get us through the emptiness and create a lifelong memory. There were 150 Americans at our location but we were on a NATO base and Thanksgiving wasn't a planned holiday. If we wanted a Thanksgiving, we had to make it ourselves, from scratch.
And we did.

Unfortunately, to our dismay, the European ingredients resulted in "unique clones" of our recipes. Everybody brought something to the table that their grandmother probably wouldn't have fed to the dog, but the laughter and shared experience is something none of us will forget.

The American writer Albert Pike once wrote, "What we have done for ourselves alone, dies with us; what we have done for others and the world, remains and is immortal."
Remember this: what's on your table isn't nearly as important as what's sitting around your table. The human bonds of friendship are what we remember most, not how good the turkey tasted or whether the stuffing was just like Grandma's. A dose of failure mixed with a dash of resilience and a big smile is the real recipe for Thanksgiving perfection.