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For as long as I can remember since the Precious Jewels came along, the Dicksons have celebrated Thanksgiving in Chapel Hill with family from all branches, friends and people who have become friends over the years.

My first memory of this tradition involves toting a diaper bag for babe # 1, who is now a married man in his early 30s. My cousin’s house, which held the first of more than three decades of Thanksgivings for us, was later destroyed by a fire caused by a Christmas tree, then replaced by one on a lake, making for a memorable setting for a fall gathering almost every year. The annual cross-Piedmont trek to get there is a dear tradition, complete with a station wagon loaded with Thanksgiving foods and accompanied by sing-alongs to a Triangle radio station which plays the long version — all 18 and a half minutes — of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” every Thanksgiving morning.

Since the only certainty in life, though, is change, this year we are changing. We are moving the entire Thanksgiving production to the North Carolina coast, where we will be eating our turkey and dressing beside the lovely salt water and keeping our fingers crossed for good weather so some of our nearest and dearest can spill out onto the porch.

Most of us are looking forward to the change of scenery, but it has prompted me to ponder what is most precious about these gatherings of people — some kin, some not — who have come to love each other.

Beyond family, our little Thanksgiving band generally includes two retired and esteemed educators from the Triangle area and a young man who immigrated to the U.S., from what was then Yugoslavia, when he was 18. He, his Charlotte-born wife, and their two daughters are an integral part of our very American celebration. There have been people my father referred to as “connections,” not exactly relations but perhaps kin to relations or in-laws of relations; in other words, some connections not involving DNA. There have been relatives from Belgium and Austria, a man in full black leather motorcycle gear whose name I never knew, and once an Ethiopian family who played native musical instruments. This year, we have several new people coming — some from a branch of the family which has generally been to the other in-laws for Thanksgiving, and a single woman friend we invited for the heck of it.

And then, there is the food!

The Chapel Hill cousin and her Belgian husband always do the turkey, dressing with apples and walnuts and gravy, and this year a Precious Jewel is frying a turkey as well. There will be rice and mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows — a hold-over from the days of many young children that always seems to get eaten anyway, some green vegetables — I always cross my fi ngers for asparagus with hard-boiled eggs crumbled on top, yeast rolls, Kentucky horse-race pie along with other pastries, and, everyone’s fave, an ice cream turkey! I am also hoping for some scalloped oysters, but we have several wildly allergic diners, so we shall see.

There will be hugs and kisses from people who have not seen each other since last Thanksgiving and some who saw each other last month. There will be displays of photographs, the occasional tiff and maybe a tear or two, and little ones either rowdy or screaming. One or two particularly full diners will grab a quick nap in a chair, overcome by the bounty of the occasion.

A new tradition has arisen in very recent years, the brainchild of the Precious Jewel generation which has moved from running around outside to more adult fun. It is the annual Turkey Bowl, to which members of my generation are not invited. It involves the younger cousins and some of their friends going out either before or after the big day to — what else — Go bowling!

I look forward to and treasure our Thanksgivings together, not because they are glamorous or special, because they are not. Our Thanksgivings, like millions of other Thanksgiving gatherings throughout our nation and wherever Americans might gather in far-flung corners of the world, are our family’s evolving way of celebrating and enjoying being together if only for one day a year and for being part of this great nation.

It is our reminder that even in these trying times, we are grateful for so much. I am also grateful that Thanksgiving is a one day holiday that requires very little decoration since we all know what is about to overtake us next month.

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