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IN THE MIDDLE: Thanksgiving, the day before Black Friday

Thanksgiving seems to be the holiday meant to be forgotten. Oh, sure, people are anxious to get together for a big dinner with all of their favorite foods that afternoon, but then it’s off to the races — the sprint (or for some, the 10K slog) to get to stores before other bargain hunters can grab up all the cool stuff for Christmas presents at the best prices.

These days, you don’t even have to wait until Black Friday to make a beeline for the stores. In their attempts to out-maneuver other retailers, some stores open up on Thanksgiving afternoon — something that was unheard of a few years ago.

Things were quite different when I was growing up. During my younger childhood, we often spent Thanksgiving holidays with my grandparents. The day after Thanksgiving was a day for family togetherness and fun. After slaving over the Thanksgiving meal the day before, my mom and grandmother were happy to relax and be with us instead of cooking. My dad, usually the sterotypical Type A personality, kicked back completely.

We did go to the stores the Friday after Thanksgiving sometimes, but I don’t remember any of us doing much shopping. We went to see firsthand the overnight miracle that had taken place: All the stores had gone from their everyday look to becoming a Christmas wonderland, and the streets were lined with lights and decorations that hadn’t been there a few days before. Those changes truly seemed like magic to a little girl or boy absorbed in the transformation. “Oooohs” and “ahhhhs” abounded on every side, and we went home full of excitement because of the wonders we’d seen.

Our family moved to Cheyenne when I was almost 11, and we lived too far from our extended family to make it practical to get together for most Thanksgivings. Still, the holiday continued to be something special.

My dad loved having people over for Thanksgiving, and he’d invite others who didn’t have family nearby — and he’d help my mother prepare the meal, too. One year, we had 23 people at our house for Thanksgiving — a group so large that my dad and brothers brought the ping-pong table from downstairs to give us all enough room to sit around. It worked well, except for the difficulty we had in passing food across the table; we soon learned to pass it from person to person around the table instead.

As I and my brothers and sisters got older, the day after Thanksgiving became one of my favorite days of the year. That was the day when, as before, my parents kicked back and didn’t worry about kitchen duties or work. Instead, we’d play board and card games for most of the day. Sometimes, we’d have two or three games going on at the same time.

Some of my favorite memories are of us all playing “Spoons,” a card game in which the cards were dealt, and after we all assessed our hands, the dealer would say “Pass,” and we’d pass a card to the person on our right. That would be repeated as long as necessary.

The first person to get a match of four cards grabbed a spoon from the middle of the table, and the other players had to follow suit quickly, because the number of spoons was one fewer than the number of people playing the game.

The player who got left out got a letter in the word “Spoon” written under his or her name, and the first person who had the whole word spelled out lost the game and had to drop out. That continued until only one person — the winner — was left.

The older we got, the more uproarious that game became. If you were the first one to get a match, it became a challenge to take a spoon so quietly that no one else noticed for a while. Once it was discovered, my brothers practically did gymnastics in their attempts to beat the rest of us to the spoons, and spoons went flying in all directions. There were even a few times when the person who started to grab a spoon first was the one left without one. I still laugh every time I think about the fun we had.

It’s likely some of us went shopping for a while on Black Friday, but I don’t recall a single shopping trip from those days.

Shopping on Black Friday wasn’t a big priority for my own family, either. While our children were more likely to want to watch movies than play games, it was still mostly a day of family togetherness. As our kids got older and I went to work, that tradition had to move to Saturday, but it was still just as fun, and just as important to our family.

So, while others dash from store to store today (Black Friday), I plan to keep another tradition. I might — probably will — do a little shopping. But I hope to spend most of the time this weekend with my husband and our children and grandchildren. I think this would be a great time to put some spoons in the middle of a sturdy table and teach our grandkids about an important family tradition.

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