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Perkolations: It's not what's on the table; it's who's around it

The people who put together our Thanksgiving feast worked and planned for days. Even before the turkey made it to the freezer, lists were drawn up and table settings prepped.

I went home to Colorado for the holiday to be with my family. After our arrival on Wednesday morning, my mom was already cooking virtually non-stop.

She and I have a way of working together that’s built from the ground up — I’ve been a part of it from my beginning. It’s one of the gifts of being a part of a family to be able to move around the kitchen together and know where things go, what needs to be done next and how to communicate through the whole process.

When the matriarchs of the family get together to prepare the food, it’s a kitchen waltz to put it all on the table. Everyone moves around each other with ease.

I mostly help with the prep work, but my mom noted how the roles have changed. I was always the one peeling the potatoes while she made the pies, but this year we switched. I made the pumpkin pies, she got the potatoes going and the meal came together thanks to her hard work, just as it has for years.

Cousins brought the casserole, great-aunts brought more dessert and my sister-in-law brought the appetizers. Soon we were talking and laughing around a loud, candle-lit table.

After all the hard work by so many people to put a feast on the table — all the preparation, the marinating, the baking, the four burners on the stove blazing at once for most of the day — the most important outcome is the gathering. The food is delicious, but it’s really just an excuse to all sit together in one place.

I ate my great-aunt Kay’s pecan pie, but I also heard the recipe and what makes the pie the best you’ll eat. I heard how her sisters send her fresh Georgia pecans right after they come into season. I got to sit with her husband, my great-uncle, and hear stories of living in Alaska.

We all ate my second cousin Michele’s green bean casserole for days after Thanksgiving, but the best part was the familiarity of laughter between her husband and my dad, and seeing her and her kids — some of my first childhood friends.

My sister-in-law brought the appetizers and, more important, she and my brother brought my 2-year-old nephew, Nick, who’s growing faster than I can keep up.

Every bite off that plate, from spinach dip to turkey to pie, is a tie to family, to laughter and to memories. The familiarity of years of those voices in the house and those tastes on the table, along with the new sound of my nephew’s feet running on the living room floor, are what epitomized my Thanksgiving.

For all the planning of the food, and all the stories and memories behind it, it was the people who gathered around that really made the holiday.