One of the best Thanksgiving memories I have was when my family traveled from North Dakota to my grandparents' home in Bella Vista, Ark. when I was a kid.
We arrived at grandma and grandpa's house after the long car ride and flooded through their door with a heavy collection of overnight bags, holiday foods and Christmas presents, which were to be handed out early since the Sullivan side of the family could only manage to get everyone together once a year. It was such an exciting time for me.
While my parents immediately started sorting our family's belongings in a guest room, my brothers and I took to the living room to meet with our cousins who had arrived before us. We all lived in different parts of the country, so it was always a treat when we were able to get together.
After spending about an hour following my cousins around and hearing about how much I had grown from my aunts, uncles and grandparents (which I always loved), everyone was called to the dining room. That night, I sat down at the table, surrounded by family, warmth, comfort and good food. It was a simple setup; the perfect Thanksgiving, really. That year was when I started to truly understand what it means to be thankful.
Today, Thanksgiving plays out a little differently for my family. A lot of us are now grown-ups, and it seems like getting everyone to meet in the same place takes nothing short of a miracle.
Like other families I've talked to, it's just hard for all of us to get together now that we're adults. We have busy lives that demand much of our attention, but we still strive to make the holiday work.
About five or six years back, we celebrated Thanksgiving in my aunt and uncle's Pizza Ranch in Casselton, N.D. (At the time, I was actually quite psyched about this because my aunt let everyone make their own pizzas, in addition to the turkey). A few years later, everyone was snowed in after meeting up at a motel in Fargo, so we ate Turkey and goodies in the motel lobby. Not many years after that, we met up at Golden Corral in Fargo for part of the afternoon, before everyone broke away to get their holiday shopping in.
I'll admit that I'm part of the reason Thanksgiving has evolved in our family. I often sneak away for part of the day during Black Friday to snag a too-good-to-pass-up deal on a designer suit, surround sound system or almost-out-of-stock Christmas gift for a family member.
Of course, material things aren't important. You can always buy more stuff, but you can't know exactly how much time you're going to have with your family.
The terms of Thanksgiving have certainly changed for my family in recent years, but it doesn't matter. What is truly important is that, no matter where we are during Thanksgiving, we make the effort to let one another know that we care.
This Thursday, let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Give a toast to good health, lend a helping hand with a holiday meal or share a friendly word.
This year, give thanks for what's most important: family.