The bowl of fruit salad sits at eye level in front of me. Through the dimpled red glass, I see the slices of bananas and strawberries, chunks of apples, and grapes resting in the sweetness of their combined juices. More than 30 years later, my mouth still waters and a sense of gleeful anticipation wells up in me as I picture that bowl of fruit salad.
I’ve never asked my mother why, but in my family we’ve always opened our Thanksgiving meal with fruit salad pre-served in individual bowls at each place setting. I must have been very young, three, maybe four years old, when that particular bowl of fruit salad burned its way into my memory, judging from the low angle from which I’m viewing it. Also, there’s only one table in my memory, albeit a long one, with only 20 people around it: my parents and grandma, an aunt, my one younger and 14 older siblings, and I. I couldn’t have been more than four, because by the time I turned five, a sister-in-law and a baby nephew had joined us. The year after that, another nephew and a niece and a brother-in-law would join us. And after that, my already large family grew exponentially as my older brothers and sisters married and had kids. The one big table in the dining room became two tables, then three, then a 60-foot table running through three rooms in my parents’ colossal old house in Pasadena. Soon the 60-footer was joined by satellite tables in the patio and breakfast room, then another long table on the front porch. One turkey became a turkey and ham, then two turkeys and two hams, then three or four turkeys, a few hams, a leg of lamb, and a beef roast or two.
The biggest Grimm Thanksgiving on record was in 2005, when about 250 people showed up at my sister Margaret’s new house. Most of them were directly descended from my parents Bill and Irene Grimm. By that time, they had 15 living children plus their spouses, and they were nearing 120 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. (They now have 126 and 24, respectively.) Almost all of them were there. My 100-year-old grandmother Evelyn Grimm sat at the head of a long table, presiding over four generations of her descendants. The rest of the crowd was friends of the family. The more the merrier has always been our motto. And everyone was merry, except maybe a neighbor whom my sister had invited. Staring at the throng, he asked her with a mixture of disbelief and disgust in his voice, “You mean to tell me most of the people here are related to you?”
“That’s right,” Margaret said.
“There ought to be a law against that,” the neighbor said.
“There is,” she answered, “in China.”
What Margaret’s crotchety neighbor didn’t understand is that Thanksgiving is about being thankful for Life. Think of those Pilgrims. They were grateful for life itself. In my family it’s the same. Every new life born is a cause for rejoicing and giving of thanks to the Author of Life.
Not that there aren’t other blessings for which we give thanks. We live in the nicest corner of the nicest country on earth. Abundance is all around us: an abundance of sunshine, an abundance of wealth — even in these harder times — and an abundance of food. Next time you’re in a supermarket, stop and look around. The overwhelming majority of the world’s people couldn’t even dream of so much food in one place. I wish I could say I am mindful of that every time I walk into Vons, but I can’t. Life’s distractions prevent it. That’s why it’s fitting that on at least one day of the year we take a day off from toil to gather with family and friends to show gratitude for all we’ve been given. This year, I’ll endeavor to keep these thoughts in mind as I plow into my mom’s sausage stuffing, my brother-in-law Pat’s rotisserie lamb, my wife Mary’s unbelievable brown sugar-walnut-coconut sweet potatoes. And I’ll thank God for life and abundance when I take that first bite of fruit salad.