We spend Thanksgiving at the beach and have for the past 20 years. What started out as a spontaneous three-day adventure for my husband, my parents, and I in a tiny cottage and has morphed into a week-long vacation for the whole extended clan in a big, beautiful beach house.
It’s a wonderful, relaxing week. We keep it simple by getting Thanksgiving dinner from Publix. We come and go as we please. My younger son and I spend our days at the heated pool, while my older son and husband do some industrial-strength sleeping. The in-laws go off exploring during the days, my brother-in-law engages in one of his many outdoor hobbies, and my sister-in-law hits the shops.
My father-in-law brings a puzzle — one with lots of pieces. We start it the first night, work on it all week, and it’s always done the night before we go home. My husband’s aunt comes for the beginning of the week and makes some of the best seafood gumbo you’ve ever eaten in your life.
And, believe it or not, over the past twenty years, I can’t remember a week when we couldn’t get into the water, or watch the sunset on the beach. It’s been warm, beautiful, and filled with love.
This week is particularly important for my husband and I because our younger son is autistic and non-verbal, and long ago we realized vacationing with just us and our sons is too difficult. But going with our extended family means we have help. We can sleep in and go out to dinner. Thanksgiving week is our only vacation each year, and we cherish it.
This year, however, is our last.
My husband’s parents are getting older and the trip is just getting too difficult for them. This year, for the first time, my husband is going to drive them to the beach. The house we’ve rented for the past five or six years has lots of stairs — as most beach houses do — and getting up and down them is hard on my father in law, who has had both knees replaced. My oldest nephew is in the high school band and next year they’ll be marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so he won’t be there.
Our lives are changing. I get that. Traditions can’t last forever. And I’m desperately fighting the urge to be sad, depressed, and nostalgic for our Thanksgivings at the beach.
Because, you know, instead of being sad we won’t go again, I should be so incredibly grateful for these glorious twenty Thanksgivings. I should remember the hours by the pool, the 1000-piece puzzles, the bowls of gumbo, and, of course, the sunsets.
I should remember I was pregnant during two of those Thanksgivings. I watched my children touch sand for the first time in their lives on these trips. And last year I sat nervously in the back seat as our older son drove part of the way to our Thanksgiving house on the gulf.
We’ve celebrated our lives there, we’ve watched our children grow there, and we’ve watched my husband’s parents age there. It’s a huge part of who we are, and it always will be.
Will I miss it next year? Will I get sad as the months roll toward November knowing we’ll not be packing up? Yes, I will. But instead of dwelling on what’s not going to be, we’ll make a new tradition. We’ll maybe even cook a turkey, mash some potatoes, have the family over, and talk about our wonderful years in Seagrove. And we will rejoice for all that was.
We will all lose many things during our lifetimes. Whether they are people, friendships, experiences, traditions. And, yes, we humans do have a tendency to see the glass as half-empty. See the loss instead of cherish the fact we ever had it. But I won’t do that. I won’t negate all the beauty of our twenty years by dwelling on the lack of year 21. No, I will embrace the brilliant words of the beloved Dr. Seuss: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.