Among the few certainties in life is that it changes.  


Some changes are dramatic — the birth of a baby, a sudden accident, an unexpected death.


Some are more of an evolution than a stark change, which is the case with the Dickson Thanksgiving tradition.


For more than 30 years, our family has celebrated this quintessential American holiday with cousins, extended family, friends and the occasional stranger at a favorite cousin’s home in Chapel Hill. Our celebration evolved for Thanksgiving 2012, when my cousin and I made the executive decision to move the whole operation to a lovely North Carolina beach where both of our families have vacationed for decades. We enjoyed our first beach Thanksgiving with about 35 hungry celebrants.  


Thanksgiving 2013 was quieter — about 16 cousins and friends — with our usual fare of real turkey and an ice cream turkey and some new items including a ham and a mac-and-cheese casserole so rich and creamy that it could surely be considered a sin. The holiday weekend continued to unfold with an oyster roast and visits by several more cousins from the younger generation and a longtime friend and former roommate of one of the Precious Jewels.


We had such a full house that even the improvised bunks built into a closet were full!


It was all great fun, but it also means that scheduling meals and other activities is a challenge and that the mom in charge — that would be me — does not always know exactly who is doing what and when they are doing it.


That was the case with an early Saturday morning duck-hunting expedition involving two Precious Jewels, our great friend Ben, and Ben’s faithful wonder retriever, Belle.  I got wind of the planned hunt the night before, heard the hunters stomping around and departing early that morning and was dozing fitfully when my cell phone rang shortly after daylight.


Now, every parent’s heart skips a beat when such calls some in, and mine did an extra little flip when the caller ID told me that Ben was on the phone.


Why was Ben calling me when the rest of the household was still snoozing?!?!?  


It was Belle. She had wandered into a marsh — one paved with oyster shells, and she was cut and bleeding. The hunters were on their way in and could I try to find a veterinarian open on Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend in a beach community?


Flooded with maternal relief but concerned about sweet Belle, I called around and discovered that the closest vet — about 20 miles away — is usually open on Saturday but had taken Thanksgiving weekend off. An emergency clinic in Wilmington would open at noon, but that was hours away. I considered ringing up a favorite god-child who is a vet, who was home for the holiday from California, but nixed that plan when I realized she probably did not pack her doggie medical supplies and equipment in her overhead bin suitcase.


In the meantime, the hunters arrived with Belle who padded around pitifully, leaving bloody paw prints on our concrete floor.  


Ben, Belle’s human parent, got on the phone himself and took the recommendation of the emergency clinic’s answering service of another vet practice that was open on Saturday morning, and off they went — Ben, Belle, a Precious Jewel, and a cousin who needed a ride back to his car.


Our medical update came in, informing us that Belle was heading into surgery to close cuts on three paws and several gashes on her legs. The rest of the gang would go get something to eat — breakfast not having happened that morning — and then await Belle’s eventual coming to and release from the clinic.


Several hours later, the gang appeared, full and relieved, all except for Belle who was bandaged, bedraggled, a bit dazed and frustrated as all get-out by the “halo” around her neck to keep up from chewing at her stitches and dressings.


All of us, including Belle, are back in our respective homes, and I am deep into my annual tizzy preparing for the next round of holiday festivities. Ben reports that Belle has had a good checkup with her own vet and that the halo, which should come off soon, is still driving her crazy.


My take away here is that little in life turns just the way we think it will. I never imagined Thanksgiving at the beach with no pumpkins or fallen leaves, but that is not the point. The point is that we were packed into a house with those we love. 


I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving 2014!

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