The holidays, and Thanksgiving in particular, are often times when traditions are established and followed. For most people, Thanksgiving is all about the food. For me growing up in Indiana, Thanksgiving Day was about the food, but it meant something else, too. It was the one day that I went hunting with my father.

He wasn’t all that avid a hunter, but on Thanksgiving he and I would go rabbit hunting. Personally, I would have preferred anything but hunting. But it was our “tradition,” and so hunting we went. We’d rise early, and it being Indiana in late November, we could count on biting cold and frequently overcast skies. I’d bundle up thick with layers, and always insisted on topping off my hunting wardrobe by strapping on my faithful Dale Rogers cap gun — just in case I encountered something to shoot at. It was as far as I cared to go in the weapons department, never being interested in actually killing an animal.

Cornfields were common there, and apparently they were “Rabbit Central,” when it came to cottontail rabbits. In truth, we never really saw that many rabbits on our annual outings, let alone bagged any. Thinking back, I have to wonder if our hunting trip was just an excuse for a long walk in the country. Because walk is mostly what we did — for hours on end. Those cornfields had long, raised rows where months before feed corn grew. After the harvest, the stubs of corn stalks protruded several inches above the ground, frozen stiff by Thanksgiving Day. In the furrows between the rows, there often lay puddles with a thin varnish of ice.

As the morning would wear on, I distinctly remember that somehow ice-cold water would be sloshing around in the bottoms of my rubber boots, and my feet freezing cold as I gamely tried to keep up with my tall, long-legged father. The more tired I got, the more I’d stumble and fall, catching my feet on those blasted corn stubs. Often I’d end up in one of the puddles. I can honestly say those hunting trips were among the most miserable things I did on an annual basis. I would be bone-tired, bruised, soggy wet and frozen to the core by the time my father would pronounce the hunt concluded so we could head back to our car.

It would be an understatement to say that actually spotting and bagging the prey we were after was never the high point of our outing for me. But it was after one of those times when my father did bag a rabbit to take home that he urged me to hold it up for a photo — the victor with her spoils! He also had me hold his gun, as if to prove that I alone could claim this “prize.” I can distinctly remember my reluctance to hold that little, limp furry body. But, hey, I was out hunting so it was the thing to do. I even have that grainy old black-and-white photo as proof of the day.

And looking at that old photo brings it all back, as if it were yesterday. OK — so not yesterday — but it does bring back a lot of memories. It reminds me that not long after this image was captured, we hopped into that old black sedan, and took off for Aunt Katherine’s house, where everyone would be waiting for us.

As soon as that back door to the kitchen was opened, we would be greeted with a rush of warm air to defrost our chapped cheeks and chilled limbs. We would hear the tail end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade playing on the TV in the living room, as the women busied themselves ferrying dishes from the kitchen to the dining room.

Our arrival meant our whole family would sit down at the big formal dining table for the dinner. That cozy kitchen would be fragrant with all manner of aromas. The roasting turkey, of course, and savory homemade yeast rolls, stuffing, two kinds of cranberry sauce — whole berry and jellied straight from a can, and the many “sides” (vegetables including those tiny “special occasion” LeSeur peas mixed with little white pearl onions that were considered the height of opulence back then).

And at the end of the meal came my personal favorites — the pies. A selection of homemade pies capped off the big meal and there was whipped cream to top them — pumpkin, apple, gooseberry from berries my grandmother grew and then canned over the summer, same as she did with the sour cherries from her tree. And always there was the piece de resistance and my favorite — cherry pie.

Thanksgiving, our only holiday dedicated to food and fine eating, and to this day it is always when we pull out all the stops, prepare from “scratch,” and serve it with flair.

Aunt Katherine’s dining room with its formal Duncan Phyfe mahogany table and long sideboard was used no more than a handful of times each year, Thanksgiving being its premier use. Christmas, Easter, family birthdays and the like were all celebrated at Aunt Katherine’s in that dining room — just another of our family’s traditions. And at the Thanksgiving, and all other dinners, everyone sat together at the long dining table with several of its extensions installed to accommodate all of us. There were no “children’s tables” back then, and this special meal, as well as every single meal each and every day, were occasions that required us all to “mind our manners.” No elbows on the table and no talking with our mouths full, and those of us who were children asked for permission when we wanted to leave the table. Yet more tradition.

Thanksgiving dinner felt special with the white Damask tablecloth, the good china and silver — and it was. Those trappings helped to make it so. The rabbit hunt with my father, the formal dinner with family — all part and parcel of the traditions of the day. You could say they represented the bitter and the sweet, which in many ways are the things and traditions that render those childhood memories indelible.

Whatever your family’s traditions, here’s hoping you’ll be observing and enjoying them come Thanksgiving day, and more through the coming holidays. Happy Thanksgiving Day, all!