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Senior Riley Kelley. Photo by Mara Fryer.

Senior Riley Kelley. Photo by Mara Fryer.

Senior Riley Kelley. Photo by Mara Fryer.

Riley Kelley

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   As a child, when I walked into my Uncle Donnie’s house on Thanksgiving Day, I would breeze past the relatives whom I hadn’t seen in months and go straight for the dessert table. My sister and I would admire the perfectly baked crusts on the pumpkin pie and the flawless consistency of the whipped cream that topped the Bishop’s pie. The dessert table seemed to never end. As I’ve gotten older, this spread of deliciousness and wonder has turned into a gut wrenching reminder of everything I can’t eat.

   This year will be my third Thanksgiving spent gluten free. I cannot eat anything made with wheat or containing wheat products. At dinner, I have to pass on the dinner rolls, the stuffing, casserole, and the pumpkin pie. The hardest “no” of them all, however, is my great grandmother’s homemade chicken and noodles. Because my mamaw’s pan can only hold so many, these noodles typically cause my cousins to throw some elbows in the dinner line.

   I walk past the dessert table with a sense of disappointment. The food is tantalizing, my tastebuds can recall the way that I used to enjoy them, but my stomach holds me back from filling my plate with all of my childhood favorites. I sit at the dinner table and focus on my double helping of mashed potatoes without gravy and my two slices of plain turkey, refusing to look at everyone else’s heaping plates. As we say grace, I give God a little side-eye for giving me a weak digestive system that prevents me from partaking in the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving dessert buffet.

   Nonetheless, around the dinner table, I feel grateful. I may not be able to eat her homemade noodles anymore, but how cool is it that I still have my 94 year old great grandmother sitting across from me at the dinner table? How lucky am I to have a family that loves one another unconditionally, through divorces and personal struggles and even the death of a loved one? I listen to my cousins tell stories about one another from their youth, laughing and adding in details through mouthfuls of turkey. Though my plate might be relatively empty at Thanksgiving, these things always fill my heart up. Thanksgiving isn’t about comparing what you have to others but appreciating what you do have. I’d much rather have pumpkin pie than not (curse you, gluten eaters), but it’s the people in my life that make Thanksgiving so sweet.

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