When I was young, Thanksgiving was all about the food. I have fleeting memories of some holiday dinners at my grandmother’s, but most of my holiday food memories were at our house. My mother made a huge turkey, or at least it looked huge to my young eyes, and we had stuffing, Mom’s special rolls, cranberry sauce and other lovely things we didn’t have on normal days. We would sit down and eat, and it was always phenomenal.
When I was in college, Thanksgiving was all about the fun. I remember heading to my sister’s house in NJ for Thanksgiving one year. There were six college kids driving East with all our suitcases in a Pinto with no snow tires. We got stuck in a blizzard in the Poconos. Traffic was at an absolute standstill. Parents actually let kids out of the cars to make snow angels on the side of the road. How crazy that seems now in retrospect. We spent Thanksgiving night sitting in a cold car. We finally got to an exit on Friday, and spend that night sitting on maps on a gas station floor. I missed the holiday completely and arrived in Red Bank on Saturday. My brother-in-law drove down to fetch me, I spent the night at their house, then flew back to Columbus. At the time I thought it was a great adventure. Now I think it was just nuts and dangerous.
After I got married, Thanksgiving was about doing my part for family Thanksgiving dinners. I loved it. We would go to Mom’s for the event, but I would cook the turkey and stuffing at home in a big electric roaster, and we would take the cooked bird with us. Mom would concentrate on all the fixings, the rolls, the pies, the green bean casseroles, etc. I would set up shop with my roaster and make gravy. My father’s typical comment was, “the turkey is a little dry.” I’m not quite sure why he said that every year, but I don’t remember him saying that to Mom when she made the bird. Perhaps it was to make her feel that no one else could cook like she did. And no one could. We had some pretty severe winters back then. One time, the National Guard had come out with road graders to clear the highways, and we drove slowly down State Route 528, marveling at the walls of piled snow to either side, at least 8-10 feet high. We managed to get there and the feast went on.
After Mom and Dad sold the big house, Thanksgiving was about gathering together, and we moved it around a bit. We had some years when my brother and his wife hosted, some when my sister (who had moved back to the area briefly) hosted. If everyone made other plans, we sometimes had Thanksgiving with Jim’s side of the family. But in all scenarios, I was the one certainty, making and bringing the turkey and stuffing.
After we built the new house, holidays came to us, and Thanksgiving became more about being grateful. I no longer had to haul the bird across the county (or counties), even though I had most of the additional preparations to manage: seating logistics, rolls, casseroles, pies, libations, etc. At least my oven was free for other baking (love that electric roaster).
This year will be different. My daughter and her family will be the only ones joining us for dinner. My son will not be making the trip from NJ this year with his crew. My brother and his wife and son will be staying home by choice, but may stop by for pie later on. My other brother and my sister are far away celebrating in their own way. Somehow I think I will be missing Mom telling me I don’t chop my onions right and Dad complaining that the turkey is a little dry. But they are celebrating Thanksgiving together for the first time since 1997, and I am thankful for that and happy for them in a wistful sort of way.
And now it’s time to head downstairs. There are pies to bake, a turkey to stuff, a casserole to experiment with, and other things that need doing. When the eight of us sit down, I will offer up my prayer of thanks that we are lucky enough to gather and do this one more year, because there are so many who don’t have that opportunity and don’t know the joy of celebrating in a warm house with good food surrounded by family. When dinner is said and done, we’ll clean it all up and prepare for our first Black Friday Potluck. For all the angst and prep, I am grateful for that as well. Having all the family on my husband’s side gather for a joyous occasion is a thing of beauty, even if it is at my house!