Despite tough year, family keeps iconic Thanksgiving tradition alive

Family Zoom

CAZENOVIA, Wis. – With the pandemic, Thanksgiving is looking a lot different for many families, may it be because they’re celebrating virtually, staying home or eating with an empty seat at the dinner table.

A Cazenovia family is getting creative to keep their decades-long tradition alive. About 60 years ago, Judy and Irv Thompson began hosting the Thanksgiving celebration, and in the years since it grew to about 70 to 80 guests.

Usually, the family would gather at the farm house for cards, football and dessert competitions. It’s a tradition that pulls you in from the beginning with an early-morning 5K, and doesn’t let you go.

“It’s just a tremendous day,” said Judy and Irv’s son, Curt Thompson. “To get out of the party you have to have an exit song. It’s just amazing.”

“It’s something that everybody looks forward to and everybody keeps coming,” said his sister, Jenny Meacham. “If you marry into this family, Thanksgiving is ours.”

“I’m so blessed,” Tracy Thompson said. “I married into this family.”

Jenny said the highest number of guests Judy played host to was 82.

“It’s been a wonderful tradition,” Jenny said. “Family was first for her.”

This year, it’s safety first.

“Well, it’s been a lot different,” Curt said. “It was really hard to do. Everybody wants to be together.”

This Thanksgiving, Jenny planned a day of virtual activities over Zoom, including the usual 5K, games and time to show off food.

“You can still do things creatively like our family is doing today. You still feel a sense of connection, but we’re doing it safely for the overall goal for everyone in this world that we can gather together in-person sooner rather than later,” Tracy said. “It’s been something we’ve looked forward to. We haven’t had a lot to look forward to. (Jenny has) added a lot of fun and flavors considering everything going on within our family and within the world.”

The day also included a moment of silence for the family’s lost loved ones, including Irv, who passed away a few years ago. This year, Judy was added to the list.

“We all miss Mom. I know her brothers and her sisters miss her tremendously,” Jenny said. “She’s been our rock for this day.”

The loss of that rock earlier this year is perhaps the biggest shift this Thanksgiving.

“I know she’s gone, but you can still feel her presence so much,” Jenny said. “It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”

Even near death, Judy made it clear she wanted her traditions kept alive.

“One of the things she kept saying at the end was, ‘You guys keep getting together. Promise you’ll be together and do family things,’” Jenny said.

“I think she’d be delighted to know what we’re doing today,” Tracy said.

Because traditions don’t live at the dinner table, or even at Judy’s packed farm house. Rather, they endure in the memories made and those still to come.

“I’m very fortunate to have such a great family we have,” Curt said. “This is a setback, but we have a lot of great times ahead of us.”

“To know Judy and Irv started this all, and you see everybody kind of branch off and this sense of togetherness and sense of family is something I’m incredibly grateful for,” Tracy said. “Every day. It’s not just today.”