By Seymour I. "Spence" Toll

For nearly 60 years our Thanksgiving dinner has been a heartfelt celebration by family and friends of the mutual love that earns their ceaseless gratitude. It is a love so appreciated that it gives our anticipation of the dinner an essential role in the holiday's celebration. In the days leading up to the holiday, that anticipation rapidly grows more intense.

This year we expect about 50 for dinner. They will be family members ranging in age from infancy to the 90s, coming from around the country, and one friend from France.

Looking forward to the uniquely joyous character of the event has a distinct and essential role in assuring the vigor of its lengthening years. After the detailed memories of delicious dinners have faded, what continues to remain fresh and heartwarming is the joyous mood of every dinner.

After my dear wife Jean, our infant daughter Emily, and I moved into our Bala Cynwyd home in 1955, our immediate family grew to three more wonderful daughters. We became the annual Thanksgiving host to family and friends, and for many years each dinner had 30 to 50 folks in attendance. Jean's annual dinner invitations always included the anticipatory joy of being together. It was like a spiritual appetizer for the event, and still is.

After arranging dining furniture while grandchildren are playing Ping Pong in the basement and tossing a football in the yard, we introduce first-time guests into our extended family whose members are getting fresh family news as they are having pre-dinner drinks. Until last year, I was the bartender and turkey surgeon. A recent falling injury has made me an emeritus for both tasks but, with a grandson's assistance, once again this year I hope to make Norwegian gravlaks - a marinated salmon appetizer.

The dinner is ideally prepared for appearance and flavor and is attractively offered buffet style on a long kitchen counter whose decor is heightened with dishes such as homemade cranberry sauce, green beans, french fried sweet potatoes, and turkey stuffing. Once we're all seated at tables in the dining room, living room, and adjoining hallway, and the younger children have been served, the adults eat, drink, and express our gratitude for sharing lifelong family blessings. Friends and family become one and stay one.

For us, no holiday can concentrate gratitude like Thanksgiving because no holiday draws together family and friends like this one. Whether months or days ahead, looking forward to that is very much a part of the experience.

As I raise a glass to all the folks and then settle into the dinner, I will be flooded with emotionally charged memories of our shared experiences, whether as joyous as the arrival of a newborn family member or the tragic loss of a friend. At the center of it all, for me, is my wounding during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, when my infantry squad mates were killed in the same shelling that only tore into my arm. Instead of dying at 19 I have been blessed to live beyond 90. The anticipation of sharing my gratitude for that with dear family and friends is at the heart of the blessing.

Seymour I. "Spence" Toll is a Philadelphia lawyer and author. spentoll@aol.com