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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

This Thanksgiving, be present, but also thankful for the memories of the past

It’s Thanksgiving week. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, is thinking about what remains long after the scent of turkey and dressing fades away.

The most common dish served at Thanksgiving is memory. No matter how crowded the table is, there’s always room.

I’ve experienced Thanksgiving a lot of different ways. When I was a kid, we often drove to Florence, S.C., to see my grandmother for Thanksgiving. For me, that meant a 250-mile ride from Georgia in the back seat of a Volkswagen Bug. I still don’t think my legs have ever fully straightened out.

That was the one time of the year we saw all the extended family on my mom’s side, led by my uncle Junior, who ran an exterminating business and would sometimes slip me a $20 when nobody was looking.

When I got out in the working world, I didn’t get to go home for Thanksgiving much. Young reporters get the holiday shifts. Occasionally somebody would organize a potluck—I was, and still am to this day, the Green Bean Casserole Guy. But sometimes Thanksgiving was a phone call home, a turkey sandwich on the couch, and the Detroit Lions. Always the Detroit Lions.

Every so often, though, I’d get to actually go home. In every Southern family there is one person entrusted to make the holiday mac and cheese, and in our family that was my sister. She’s been gone almost eight years now, but I can still conjure up the taste of that mac and cheese just by thinking about it. That’s just about the best inheritance I can think of.

My wife and I used to travel to one family or another for Thanksgiving every year. But now that her mother lives with us, we stay here in Charlotte. We’re figuring out our own traditions on the fly.

The point of all this is, there’s no one way to do Thanksgiving. It can be a fraught time for people who don’t get along with their families. It can be a stressful time for the women—it’s usually women—who get saddled with cooking huge meals. It can be a time when you end up not feeling very thankful.

Maybe that’s because we set the bar too high. Are you still present and accounted for? Are you around some people you love, or at least able to reach them? Do you have something in your life that makes you happy, or fulfilled, or grateful? Are you within an arm’s length of mashed potatoes and gravy?

Maybe, for this Thanksgiving, that’s enough. Give thanks for the little things. And hold onto the memories.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.