Filled chairs, empty chairs, never-ending memories

Swarms of pesky lady bugs, geese honking overhead, 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, when 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 ‘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 no 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 together 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 Thanksgiving, give us extra reason to want to be together. We may not be able to gather in as large 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!

Laura Barton

My name is Laura Barton. I grew up in the wonderful community of Vankleek Hill on a dairy farm just outside of town. I have been actively involved in the community for as long as I can remember, through sports, school, 4H, volunteering etc. I now live in St. Bernardin, ON with my beautiful son and wonderful partner. I graduated from Carleton University with a major in Psychology and a minor in English. I now work as an Educational Assistant at Pleasant Corners Public School and milk cows part time. I started writing in journals at a very young age. I am thrilled to have been given an opportunity to share with others! I hope what I have to say is enjoyed by all.

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