Every day, ideas continually bombard us. We stand there, a bit like Jim Thome, trying to figure out which ones to let go by and which to try and hit out of the park.

Several years ago, I came upon an article in some woman's magazine telling how the author had a special Christmas tablecloth on which every year all the guests signed their names. Afterwards, she would embroider the names as a permanent record of who had been there. Each year was a different color. Hmmm, I thought. That's a good idea.

There were a few problems, however. First and foremost, we didn't have Christmas dinner. Not one with guests, anyway. Because the family is so scattered and Christmas involves transporting gifts, we don't much try to get together for that holiday.

Ah, I mused, but we do generally have a mob for Thanksgiving. How could I take that idea and tweak it? Or, as they say on American Idol, make it my own? I churned that around in my head for a while and eventually a light bulb went on. What was Thanksgiving without cooking? And what says cooking more than--aprons! My "tweak" was that instead of simply inscribing names, we could do a theme, and everyone would put their mark - a thumbprint--along with their name.

At the craft store, I found a muslin apron and some fabric paint. The first theme was a no-brainer - turkeys. Everyone made a thumbprint out of brown paint and added a penciled name. Afterwards, I added red wattles and orange tail and feet and embroidered the names in orange and brown floss, adding an embroidered year at the top of the bib.

It was an instant hit. In the years that followed, we did apples, pumpkins, grapes, pilgrims and Indians, spoons, bowling balls (a Thanksgiving tradition), and on a somber feast in November, 2001, tiny submarines and an American flag, representing our son who had been deployed to the Gulf shortly after 9/11. Last year, it was candy corn. What was especially fun was to see the thumbprints increase in size as the years went on. One of my favorite aprons is the pilgrim one. Granddaughter Caroline once printed her name across half the apron, and added three or four extra bars to the final E. She just started college.

On the day of the feast, everyone in the kitchen has a choice of which apron to wear, although the number of choices now far outnumbers the cooks, since this will be our 20th year.

Thanksgiving has now moved from our house to some of the kids'. I grumbled at bit when that change happened, but it's kind of nice to be in charge of the stuffing, the rutabaga, and the pumpkin muffins, and that's all.

We'll be gathering again this year. It won't be everyone, but everyone will be there in spirit--and in thumbprint.

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