By Abe Villarreal

During this time of the year, I think of the people I would like to sit with at the Thanksgiving dinner table. The people that are now gone but still have a place. More than anything we want in life is to have a place.

Each year, one of the brothers in the family volunteers to host Thanksgiving. It's a nice thing to do even if that brother and his family have to be the ones that end up doing all the set up and all the cleaning. They have a place for us, and that's what matters.

I live in a different town from the rest of my family so I don't get the blessing of hosting, and setting up, and cleaning. I get to show up with my side dish and eat. There is a place for me, no matter what brother's house is hosting the dinner.

Nana Rafaela, dad's mom, always had a place. She's no longer here, but she still has one. I'll never forget the really long prayers we always knew were coming when we'd get together in a large circle. We held hands and closed our eyes. A blessing of the food and a prayer from Nana who through her many words and tears showed us that we all had a place in her heart.

The prayers went on and on, but I would give anything to hold hands with her again, listening to all her petitions. Each of us in the family was named. We all mattered. During one of her final Thanksgiving dinners with us, she leaned over my shoulder slowly. I thought she was whispering something as we sat beside each other enjoying the meal. She kept leaning until I knew that something was wrong.

Nana Rafaela had a minor stroke that evening. Right there at the dinner table. She went on to live for a few more years, and even though she didn't recognize us in the end, she was still there, and we had a place for her.

There's something about saving a seat for someone important to you. It's as special as pulling out a chair for a friend or a new acquaintance. It means you're making room. It means that the table is there for everyone. We can all share it. The table makes us all equal.

In my culture, there is room for everyone. Family or strangers. New friends and old. People of different backgrounds. Even if we can't find a chair, we make a place.

That's what Thanksgiving is to me. It's a time to show everyone that they matter, and all you have to do is make sure there is enough room to squeeze them in. The turkey and the mashed potatoes are part of it, but just part of it. The best part is coming together to catch up, to learn something new, to give thanks.

The real reason for Thanksgiving is knowing there is a place for you.

Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at

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