Thanksgiving in the Country

How grateful I am to have a family tree that is complex and beautiful, with open arms and plenty of love to go around.

It has been one of the great lessons of my life and one that was deepened Thursday when our little clan made a long, pretty drive along South Carolina’s back roads to join the Ellis side of the family for a grand Thanksgiving celebration. It was one worthy of Garden and Gun (but with exactly zero pretense) at a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by acres and acres of beautiful South Carolina countryside. Our hostess, Jean, whom I love like mad, filled the house and lawn with family, friends and so much good food all our bodies and our souls were nourished. It was a collection of people connected in so many diverse ways it reminded me of a constellation, bright little lights that came together to form something special.


Jean and Buck’s


We gave thanks, honored the grand patriarch of the family Ed Ellis, then at tables spread hither and yon through the house we caught up with loved ones from far and near and made new friends from the collection of folks gathered there.




Then it was out to the fields with Jean’s husband, Buck (the most interesting man I know*) for some skeet shooting. I was thrilled with the possibility and strapped Emma’s rifle to my back even if I didn’t actually get to pull the trigger (dang shoulder surgery).


photo credit: Emma Ellis


It’s just as well. Emma out shown and outshot us all.




We were walking back to the house when Jean pulled on a quiet branch above our heads and nuts rained down. They were pecans, and as I’ve never gathered or shelled the things, I ran to the house for a bag. (I hear from many that I will now spend the month of December trying to coax them from their shells.)




It was a gorgeous November day, golden in every way, my heart filled to overflowing. How blessed I am to have collected three big families in my life: my own Rigg kin; my husband’s big Italian Monetti branch; and the one that came with my first marriage, the Ellis/Suber clan that refused to let go but instead broadened its loving circle when I remarried 12 years ago.

How they’ve colored my life. How they’ve shown me–each and every member of that beautiful, extended family–what it means to love, deep and pure and with genuine hearts.


my sister/cousin Jean’s car tag


*For instance. Buck is restoring a wooden boat that once belonged to Malcomb Forbes. Swear.



On Thanksgiving and Tradition (a redux)

This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. I repost it every year–a tradition, I guess you would have to say. I wish you every blessing of this holiday week.


The past three nights I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice about which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking this year if we would remember asking last year?


In my family today—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.


Eliza, in blue, a Party Girl in The Nutcracker


I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.


at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade


And so, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

And so tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.



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Friends for Life.

Sarah, Hanna, Eliza, Jillian, Michelle


It’s not easy to make a major life transition, and this is doubly true when that move is from college to adulthood. It’s what my favorite Clemson girls have faced this fall as they’ve moved from Senior Year to Real Life navigating grown-up jobs, graduate school, and solo apartments in new cities with few friends.

They are also spread across the Southeast, something that challenges them, in Atlanta, Charleston, Greenville, Charlotte, Raleigh.

So you can imagine the joy I felt in hosting their first big reunion at our house this weekend. They walked in my door, wrapped their arms around each other and commenced to talk and talk and talk, their subjects nowhere near exhausted by the time of their Sunday afternoon departure. There was coffee and chatting on the porch, afternoon conversation down by the lake, evening laughter as they draped across the sofas (and each other) in the Keeping Room. My heart was so full as I watched them hold close to each other.

It made me think about my own college friends–the women I lean on for reassurance, guidance and so much more. It has been 33 years since we were the Clemson girls facing the world for the first time. And I have to say it surprises me now to realize I count on them today every bit as much as I did all those years ago. They have been here all along the journey, my buoy in dark times, my co-rejoicers in the glorious. A thousand times have I faced a dilemma, reached out to one of them and said: Tell me. What do you think?

A thousand times there has been a thoughtful, loving answer.


part of our group: Teri, Leslie, Cathy, Lisa, Ann, Sarah, Teresa
part of our group: Teri, Leslie, Cathy, Lisa, Ann, Sarah, Teresa


I remember last May standing at the Clemson graduation party for my own daughter and her besties as we toasted their launch into the big lives waiting for them out here. I raised my glass and said, “You will always have each other, that is a promise I can make. Even when you are miles apart, life has a way of making sure you reach for each other and hold on.”

How true it is.

And so I watched them together all weekend, these girls who have become women before my very eyes. I thought how grateful I am they have each other. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the friends along my own path, the women who have made my life richer, sturdier, more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. It seems only yesterday we were the ones hugging goodbye on the campus of Clemson University. And yet here we are now, our own children grown, our bond unwavering.

I am grateful. For so many reasons, I am deeply grateful.

November’s Promise

I cannot come to a peaceful conclusion–that is the truth–when it comes to trimming the wildly growing trees and bushes in our yard.

A hardy cutback can be a very good thing, this I know. It’s a part of life in all its most responsible forms. And still I love the wild beauty of a thing left to its own devices, blooms and branches reaching hither and yon with no regard for conformity. No regard at all.

Tim was in the yard with gigantic trimmers this summer. He was going about his work with typical Tim-like methodisicm. (That is, in fact, a word–at least as it pertains to my hyper-organized husband.) It’s something I love most about him, this commitment he has to keeping our lives in order. Still I ran to him with fear in my eyes. “Don’t trim the Sasanqua,” I said. “I love that it’s tall enough now to reach above the big kitchen window sill and peek in. It makes me happy.”

He obliged.

So early this week I looked out and saw this.



The reward of one premiere blossom. One bold blooming flower, there in the primary window position saying, Well hello there Cath. You asked and here I am!  That brilliant flower was surrounded by a multitude of buds all waiting their turn, waiting until the lead bloom and I had had our moment.




Three days and then the bush burst forth in glory.






Winter is fast approaching. But the Sasanqua serves to remind me in every season, every age, every time–there is remarkable beauty.




You Can Go Home Again

I have been surprised to see them there, the bluebirds who have spent a good amount of time hanging around the official* house and the snake** house in recent days. Most often they come in late afternoon when they also enjoy the buffet of creepy crawlies they find in our yard. But now, to tell you the truth, there are so many bluebirds I’m not sure which I’m seeing!

This is a good thing.

Just a couple of days ago I was doing a little writing on the screened porch when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flutter of activity. I leaned forward for a closer look and spotted this.




Is that you, Papa? I wondered.




Is that you, Crazy Bird Lady? he countered.


Then she flew in.




She was very curious,




looking here and there,




and up and down,




and all around.




Then he flew for a closer inspection.




Probably it is the same sweet pair, I’ve decided–the couple who, together with me, has raised two successful broods (and survived a couple of ugly, ugly attacks). Or perhaps they are new to our little corner of Bickely’s Pond.

Either way I’m happy.

And quite clearly, I’m in need of another bluebird house before Spring!


*We added this more snake proof birdhouse (out in the unbearable sun) after that awful incident in May.

**This was the awful incident.

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November Notes


November is textured and brilliant, a van Gogh painting with brush strokes of genius and soulful undertones. It’s an antique brooch pinned on a jean jacket, the rare book collection in a hallowed library and the words of Henri Nouwen tucked into a leather bag for reading on the train. It’s twigs and pinecones and birds nests, harvest moon and owl call, squirrels spiraling up the trunk of an oak tree on a frosty morning. November is autumn swan song and hello holidays, pecans to gather and sky-high pie piled with whipped cream. There’ll be spicy chai tea, steam rising like perfume, and a few lines by Rumi that stay in your heart all day. November is for seeing life through a lens of gratitude, transforming the days into a precious present. Blessings upon blessings for those who pause to count them. And those who seek to be one.


This post first appeared on the lovely blog Very Truly Julie. A huge thanks to my dear friend (and one of my favorite writers), Julie Degni Marr, for letting me share it with you here.

Halloween, I Love

Several years ago my sweet husband decided it would be fun to have me standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon the day I turned 50. It was a great big item on my life list, after all, and so I was quite happy to oblige.

There was so much I loved about that trip, not the least of which was this fabulous find.

Jerome, Arizona October 2009
Jerome, Arizona October 2009


How fun it is to have a birthday nudged right up next to Halloween!

Here’s wishing you a night filled with ghosts and goblins of the friendliest kind.



As often as I pray you’d think I’d be better at it. But so often my words feel stilted, my requests more rote and less soul.

Then today in church Dr. Bragan delivered a meditation on prayer that changed the way I think about it. For one thing, he said, God already knows our prayers before we pray them. (I guess I knew that? But still, I find it so comforting.) For another, he said, all God wants is for us to sit in communion with Him. To just be present. Aware. Together.

I love that.

And so I shall spend some time this week giving it a shot. Hanging with The Big Guy, just Him and me.


No words.

All heart.



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Speaking in Color




There’s such a brief time during which the globe tilts, the angles change, nature resets. It’s as if God wants to remind us:

Hey. I made this glorious and perfect Earth for you.

But you seem bored.

(Imperfect mortals that we are.)

Why don’t we just change things up a bit?


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