My mom is one of six sisters. Every Thanksgiving, my mother’s family gathers at Aunt Ruthanne and Uncle Ron’s house in Connecticut. The table stretches from the dining room into the living room, with a joyous crowd of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. “We don’t say grace,” my late Uncle Howie once quipped. “We do The Wave.”

I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without a kitchen crowded with aunts and uncles and noisy with laughter. Ruthanne making stuffing, basting turkey. Aunt Meg taking photographs and peeling turnips. Beth and Jo unveiling their mouth-watering pies they brought for dessert. Aunt Nancy pitching in wherever she’s needed—stirring gravy, peeling potatoes.

Thanksgiving pies, made by Aunt Beth and Aunt Jo

Wafting through the kitchen like the savory smells is laughter and conversation. Trading stories, catching up, interrupting each other, making each other laugh.

At the center are the six sisters, and their love for one another  and for their partners and children. Three sisters, and three more, brought together when my grandfather remarried. The six of them “are a force of nature,” my father says, not entirely joking. Together they can do anything: Planning surprise parties, helping organize a child’s wedding, supporting one another through surgeries, cancer scares, job transitions, just listening to one another. They stay close, sending collective emails they’ve dubbed “SisterNet.” Every spring, they go to Aunt Meg’s house in Florida for a long “Sister’s Weekend.” The photos they show later are of them cooking, eating, talking, laughing, and Aunt Jo strolling the beach, adding to her collection of seashells.

Each one embodies something I wish I could see in my own mirror.

Left to right: Aunt Meg, Aunt Nancy, Sharon (Mom), Aunt Beth, Aunt Ruthanne. Not Pictured: Aunt Jo

Aunt Ruthanne has taught special education, and now runs a boarding school. Just thinking about her earthy sense of humor and a laugh you can hear from anywhere in her house makes me smile. But at the same time, she’s easy to confide in, all seriousness when I, or any of her students, needs someone to listen.

Aunt Jo met her husband while line dancing in Vermont, performs with a steel drum band, has a gorgeous singing voice, and did I mention her pies? I saw her perform in a play once, where she sang flawlessly, while lying on her back with her legs in the air.

Aunt Nancy has worked in urban planning and can tell, just from the sound, what sort of concrete was poured on a highway (this makes for interesting, trivia-filled road trips). Her funky, art-deco taste in jewelry is what I think of when I get dressed up for a night out.

My mother counsels battered women and helps them navigate the court process, so she’s hearing stories about things no woman should have to learn about, much less go through. She stays calm enough to help these women heal, where I’d have been reduced to tears of outrage.

Aunt Meg is retired, but busier than ever — traveling, going to the ballet, organizing the years of excellent family photos she has taken, and learning German so she can better enjoy her grandchildren, whose mom was born in Austria.

Aunt Beth also travels extensively, both for work and following a culinary passion to take classes in France. But while I could sing the praises of her varied cooking talents — seriously, the pies!— I most admire her courage in the face of life’s loves and losses, including as a member of the medical profession. (I can’t even watch “Scrubs” without flinching.)

With about 20 people around the Thanksgiving table, it takes something like a force of nature to make everything work so well.

Thanksgiving Friday is a central part of the family tradition as well. The sisters go to lunch around 1 p.m. and return sometime after dark, still laughing and talking. How can lunch last that long, and what do they talk about? Only they know.

That lunch I grew up hearing about secondhand is as central to my beloved Thanksgiving tradition as the crowded kitchen that precedes it. What I admire most about this force of nature, about these six women, is the force of the love that keeps them close.

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  • Nora Esthimer March 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    My aunts are gone, but oh so not forgotten. One morning recently I found myself missing them. The poem that resulted is “The Divinity of the Aunts.” Please read on my blog,

    I loved reading about your Forces of Nature, Elizabeth.