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Warmth surrounds Thanksgiving table

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published November 21, 2007


What I love most about Thanksgiving is that it is all about the meaning of home, no matter where you are. It's about the beauty of the table, the food and being thankful, no matter what your circumstances.

The Thanksgiving table, in my mind, has always been a symbol of that gratitude. Why else do we fuss and fret for days over whether the tablecloth has been dry-cleaned, the silver polished, the crystal spot-checked, the centerpiece worthy of praise from Martha herself?

The best Thanksgiving centerpieces aren't always the expensive kind sent from the florist, though those are nice, too. My favorites are the ones made with natural treasures found right in the back yard: pine cones, hibiscus blossoms, leafy branches and twigs.

Add small gourds, miniature pumpkins, tea lights and a scattering of fall leaves parchment leaves make wonderful liners for cheese trays and you have the makings for a beautiful table.

In years past, I have been sent on missions to trespass into neighbors' yards and snip some version or another of Florida holly for the table, not to mention more exotic plant specimens that no one could identify and probably didn't belong on a table where anyone was eating.

Oh, but how our holiday tables looked beautiful. A table set with a natural centerpiece, white linen napkins and silver candlesticks with white-taper candles still makes my heart pound with joy.

I have always thought we are lucky to have this annual timeout, this day of homey togetherness that has come to mean not just parades and football, but feasting on our best china.

When I was 21, living in New York and having my first Thanksgiving away from family, my finest china consisted of Mikasa outlet red, white and blue dinner plates and matching cups and saucers.

My roommates and I managed to serve undercooked turkey, yams from a can, and dressing that was unadulterated Stovetop. But somehow, even in our tiny, walk-up flat where the thrifty landlord refused to turn on the heat until Thanksgiving Day, we made our table look worthy - on a very welcome day off from our minions' jobs in publishing!

For that day off I am still grateful.

For a lovingly set Thanksgiving table, I am even more grateful.

For the chance to share a meal with immediate family as well as family I rarely see, I am grateful beyond words.

As we set our Thanksgiving tables this year, it's not about the money it costs to put it together. A nice tablecloth will do if you have it. And a few pine cones and gourds scattered around some flickering tea lights are enough to make friends and family feel welcome and cared about.

As the holiday approaches, I think of a French proverb, "Gratitude is the heart's memory," and begin to understand what it really means: It's about counting your blessings for being "alive together," to quote a poem by one of my favorite poets, Lisel Mueller. It's about knowing that the people you love are there to raise a toast with you, around a beautiful table set for a meal of true thanks.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

[Last modified November 20, 2007, 20:25:59]

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