Swarms of pesky lady bugs, geese honking over head, bright vibrant colours in the trees and warm rays of sunshine kiss our faces. Fall and one of its most looked forward to holidays, Thanksgiving, are here! Thanksgiving is always during one of the most beautiful, and busiest times of the year. If you were out for a drive this past week you would have seen dust being kicked up by combines and tractors, field after field. Farmers working hard to get their crops in before the weekend, where rain is forecasted and turkeys wait to fill their hungry bellies. Everyone looks forward to a break for some good food and company.

This year my grandmother asked me to read a thanksgiving article she saw in the Ontario Farmer magazine, and summarize it aloud, at our family dinner. It is titled “Empty Chairs, empty table, but still Thanksgiving” written by Mitch Albom in 2018. He touches on the importance of remembering loved ones who can longer be with us for holiday gatherings and the importance of the traditions of gathering immediate and extended family members together. In light of the changes the last year and a half has made to all of our lives, Albom’s article inspired me to write my own version of what having empty chairs at our Thanksgiving table means to me.

Albom reflects on various memories of the loved ones he has lost. Memories of the laughter, joy and arguments which were always present at their tables. We all have loved ones who no longer fill a chair at our table, who we wish were still here. Thankfully their spirits remain in our hearts and memories are never lost. Memories of my cousin Garett piling mountains of food on his plate and then passing out in the arm chair at every family gathering. Memories of Grandma Jane always needing us to remind her which Barton cousin we were because there were far too many of us to keep track of! Albom speaks of how his family mourns their lost loved ones, but I believe Thanksgiving should be a time to remember and cherish them. To celebrate the life they lived, knowing that they are watching over us.

Thanksgiving is also a time to be thankful for all who do fill a chair. So many more chairs have been added to our family’s table, as new partnerships are formed, and the next generation continues to grow. Four generations share laughter, joy and old memories. Four generations work together to gather our family safely during a pandemic. G.G. Barton has been relieved of her cooking responsibilities, encouraged into retirement, but her many years of delicious meals, recipes and love has been passed down to the next generations. Everyone works together to prepare the traditional Barton/Allen meal, with someone often adding in a new appetizer or side dish to spice things up!

Albom’s parents passed along their Thanksgiving traditions to him and his wife as well, telling them “It’ll be up to you to hold the family together”. At the time he did not realize the true implications of this responsibility. As each generation reaches new stages in their lives; going away to school, marriage, kids, mid-life crises, creaky bones; gathering everyone together for a meal becomes harder and harder. Throw in a global pandemic and it’s almost impossible. But special occasions, especially one as special as Thanksgivng, gives us extra reason to want to be together. We may not be able to gather in as large of numbers as we used to. We may need to sit at separate tables, outside, risking mother nature’s mood swings, but it is all worth it if our empty chairs, are filled with warm bums and the celebrated memories of those we hold dear in our hearts. Creating new memories, cherishing old ones, and relaxing with a food coma, can all be squeezed into a short time, before heading back to the hustle and bustle of harvesting and everyday life. Soak in every second, and be thankful for the filled chairs, the empty chairs and the never-ending memories!