For essentially as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has signaled time with family…and a tree stand. While that still remains true, the traditional routine of late November has experienced some changes.

As I’ve shared in this space previously, the Destefan family has ties to Jefferson County that existed long before my career move with this newspaper. Although not technically “from” here, I’ve been coming to the area since I could walk, spending time at the farm (as we call it), valuing a rural lifestyle. Still, my visits were limited to a few occasions a year, headlined by the annual excursion for rifle season around Thanksgiving. My hometown is roughly three hours away, so that trip “up north” was always a highlight of the holiday season.

My parents would host the feast on Thursday, getting our small family together for food and fellowship before officially turning our attention to the prized date that not so long ago held the designation of “the Monday after Thanksgiving.”

Much like that staple on the calendar has changed to “the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” so too has our family’s routine.

As I write this, Lindsey and I are preparing to host our third Thanksgiving, no longer going to Mom and Dad’s, but rather getting set to welcome them for not only the day, but most of the ensuing week. Now living all of 15 minutes from our hunting camp, it’s only logical for them to come to us, first with a focus on Thursday’s meal before looking ahead to Saturday’s chance at a buck.

The biggest addition is our now 14-month-old son, who brings a new light into all of our lives.

Needless to say, things are quite different than they were three years ago. Even so, the primary principles will always remain the same.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a close relationship with my parents, with holidays simply serving as another opportunity to visit. As Cooper continues to grow seemingly by the hour, my Mom and Dad have dedicated themselves to being constants in his life, not letting the three-hour trip stand in the way. We also make our fair share of trips back home, but weeks like this only further solidify how life really does come full circle. Instead of me traveling “up north” and leaving my wife and son for several days to hunt, Cooper’s grandparents now come here, with Nana spending the better part of a week spoiling him while Pappy D happily juggles making his grandson laugh and hunting with yours truly.

The camaraderie of hunting camp also remains crucial, even if I now choose to sleep in my own bed rather than one at the farm. For those who have the privilege of hunting with a group, you understand it’s not something to take for granted. When you can do it with family, it makes it that much more special.

I’ve had that ability to share the woods with my father, grandfather and a close family friend for as long as I’ve been capable of shouldering a rifle, making memories over the years that will last a lifetime. As we all grow older, it enhances the importance of each hunting season, realizing that health, careers and beyond will inevitably impact our brotherhood down the road. Come Saturday, and the few days we are able to take off work that follow, it’s vital to cherish it all.

Sure, getting lucky enough to personally take a buck would be great. Admittedly, it’s been a while. But I’ll be just as thrilled if anyone in our camp downs a shooter. And, without asking, I know they feel the same. That’s the unspoken beauty of it.

There’s also the serenity that is only available this time of year, watching the wilderness wake up at sunrise while a subtle breeze and rustling of leaves take over the senses. Pounding away on a keyboard and answering a phone may pay the bills. But sitting in the trees can temporarily put the worries of the world on silent.

One thing that will be on my mind is how soon Cooper will be joining me when it comes to hunting, ready to make those memories with him. Yes, it’s still years away, but with how time screams by, it will be here before I know it.

That will be yet another chapter to our changing traditions. Fortunately, Thanksgiving signaling time with family and a tree stand will remain the same.

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Ben Destefan is the editor of the Courier Express. He can be reached via email at: bdestefan@thecourierexpress.com

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