Holding the Holidays Close to the Heart

By Dennis Smith

I’ve been around long enough now that I’ve seen three quarters of a century’s worth of Thanksgiving holidays come and go. That, in itself, is something for which I’m enormously grateful. After all, there is no gift more precious than life itself — unless it’s a long, happy, healthy one spent in the company of loved ones. And, thanks be to God; my parents, wife, children and grandchildren; and the marvels of modern-day medicine, mine has been exactly that so far — knock on wood.

When our family gathers around the Thanksgiving Day table these days, it’s traditional for all of us to name at least one thing we’re thankful for. Me? I’m just happy to be sitting at the holiday table again, surrounded by family and friends.

When you consider that, from the moment we’re conceived, each of us is pitted against an unholy alliance of deadly diseases, natural disasters, freak accidents and unseen tragedies, it seems remarkable that any of us live long enough to see our teenage years. To survive for seven-plus decades seems almost miraculous. Of course, I didn’t always think that way, but when you’re 20-something, it’s perfectly clear you’re immortal; later in life, though, it becomes equally clear you’re not.

I have many warm memories of past Thanksgiving holidays. While all of them center on family gatherings and the traditional turkey feast, more than a few of them are inextricably tied to my father’s old deer camp in Mink Hollow. In our neighborhood, deer hunting and Thanksgiving went together like mashed potatoes and gravy, and it was common for the men and boys to leave for deer camp immediately following the pumpkin pie and hot apple cider.

Our deer cabin was little more than a paint-worn, clapboard shack fitted with a potbelly stove, a makeshift kitchen, and two rows of double-decker bunk beds fashioned from peeled spruce logs. It sat in a meadow at the end of a logging road that climbed through 4 miles of hardwood forest. Beechnut, sugar maple, mountain ash and northern red oak dominated the flanks of the mountains, punctuated by fragrant stands of hemlock and pine. Whitetails fed on the beechnuts and acorns and bedded in the tangles of mountain laurel that crept across the slopes like a huge, green, serpentine carpet.

Much as I’d like to, I can’t take my two boys back there. The cabin is long gone and so is Mink Hollow. But we try to maintain the family tradition by planning a Thanksgiving hunting trip of some kind — if not for deer, then for ducks, geese or pheasants. And if not on Thanksgiving Day, then as close to it as everyone’s schedule allows.

It may not be exactly like it was back in the day, but it’s always fun and we’re enormously grateful to be together again making more Thanksgiving memories.

Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.