My dad and I were father-daughter close on 364 days of the year. But on Thanksgiving Day, collegiate loyalty trumped family ties as we watched the game together but cheered for the rival football teams of our alma maters. For 96 years, the Texas A&M Aggies (Dad) and University of Texas Longhorns (me) played a hotly contested holiday matchup. It was “our game” and our tradition, a reminder of college and family, love and rivalry. During the Thanksgiving holiday, like every other one that came before and those that will stretch into the future, I thought of my father with nothing but gratitude.
We did not always sit on opposing sides of the proverbial stadium, and I grew up eagerly listening to stories of his college days. As children, my sister and I would alternate playing with Barbies and a herd of plastic horses with swinging on the jungle gym in the back yard. After he came home from work, Dad joined us, sitting on the edge of one of the twin beds in our pick and white checked bedspreads. He told us about the real horses he had ridden growing up in West Texas. He taught us the lyrics to the Aggie War Hymn while we clapped and sang together.
Good-bye to Texas University, So long to the orange and the white…
Dad’s loyalty to his college was fierce. He and my mother were 21 and 19 when they married and she joined him at College Station while he completed his engineering degree, paid for by the GI Bill. My mother’s older brother, also an Aggie, left college to fight in WWII. She was an enthusiastic member of the A&M fan club and, had it not been an all-male school (changing to co-ed in 1963), she would have enrolled to complete her degree, too.
As I grew from a little girl to a teenager, I swapped out sweetness for surliness, a fact my father gleefully reminded me of when my eldest hit his teen years. When it was my turn for college, my parents consented to my choice of UT. Freshman year, as I stepped out of the car from the three-hour drive from Austin for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dad greeted me with a hello bear hug wearing his favorite A&M maroon cardigan sweater. Love and rivalry served in equal parts!
For decades I have lived in New York and knew my father would place the first call on Thanksgiving Day. He and I gloated or groaned, depending on the latest score or blunder. Though we were no longer sitting side-by-side watching together, I saw him clearly in my mind’s eye, on the edge of his saddle-colored leather chair, clapping for his beloved Aggies. I knew that on his right hand, brown-speckled with age, would be his well-worn, class of ‘47 A&M ring.
My parents excelled in their roles as “Granny and Pa,” and our kids grew up in their loving embrace. Adult hands grasping little ones, they strolled through the zoo and walked to the playground. They sat together, drinking lemonade from tiny teacups and nibbling on freshly baked sugar cookies. During our annual Christmas holiday visit to Texas, we gathered in the den and watched countless college football bowl games, regardless of the opponents.
In 2005, a month after he turned 80, my dad died. Our two children were 15 and 10, old enough to have rich and enduring memories of their grandfather. The legacy he leaves them, and me, is his example as an honorable man, a great parent and a wonderful grandfather. I miss him most keenly on Thanksgiving Day. I hope that his love and life lessons are ones that I so completely absorbed during my own childhood that I am able to follow in his parenting footsteps. It is my most heartfelt desire that my children will do the same.
How about you? What are your family’s holiday traditions?