I started with the expectation of Thanksgiving set by my Aunt Judy (bless her heart). Thanksgiving, even with its historical controversy was, besides Easter, my favorite holiday!
Every year there were around thirteen growing to twenty of us a mostly congenial group.
With a beautiful formal table with china, crystal, and silver, we’d have like seven vegetable dishes, including cranberry sauce, 3 stuffings (regular, corn, and oyster), turkey and gravy. There’d be 4 pies (apple, pecan, mince, pumpkin), homemade, ice cream and whipped toppings. We would be so full, it felt almost criminal to our bodies, to eat those desserts.
After dinner we’d get to relax for a while, and breathe. Sitting overdosed with tryptophan and serotonin, we chatted easily (though always nonpolitical) about our lives, studies, or work and ignoring most micro-aggressions. My dad was the honorary black sheep that got everyone upset (or their excuse anyway) because he was the least independently successful man in the group, and could be stubborn and defensive. Though my sister did come in second her constant eating angst.
Eventually the men would go watch the football game (and quietly drink enjoying their well-earned glows), while we girls and women picked up their dishes, cleared the table(s), and washed everything. The kitchen would seem clean when we left later.
It did nag me a little as a few of us “girls” worked too, that we didn’t get to loll. “Whatever”, said my elders, “Do as you’re told” … and I did; I wanted to be welcome.
Then we’d go for a most pleasant walk with my cousins to “strangers” that even I liked seeing more each year! Granted it was usually snowing, or at least pretty cold, so we’d all get a little stoned then have a sip of Bailey’s. With that tradition, I got to know a more relaxed version of my cousins, my blood relatives, anchoring me for a moment in the feeling I had family.
That was a good time and, for me, felt like the warmest holiday of the year.
Early in marriage, I’d try to recreate that scene with my family. Only problem was, we started out overseas where I had both my sons born in the army hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. Other than on base, or the post where we didn’t live, Thanksgiving wasn’t our host country’s tradition- though they had their own harvest days’ traditions.
There was no family, nor friends for me, nearby. It wasn’t nearly the same, but I did what I could. Though I tried, the “glow” was missing.
Was it the food or lack of company, I’m not really sure. Was it all the work already with my job and two toddlers? The husband was quite busy and late most days, never making it to dinner at a time that I craved. While earnest in my attempts, my heart wasn’t in it. With passing years, I felt taken for granted.
Over time these fancy dinners shrank to less: like 3 vegetable dishes, turkey with gravy, 2 types of stuffing, and 3 pies with topping. It was mostly me that ate the vegetables, not including potatoes. Hubby helped with cleanup, though there’d be plenty to do the next day. Being toddlers, the kids needed constant parenting; the bulk of kitchen work fell on me, the perfectionist.
Then it started getting a bit strange.
A few years ago after surgery, my back went out on me so severely I could hardly breathe- let alone pick up and apply pressure (like making the crusts) without massive amounts of meds and numbing.
The boys, now teenagers, had to make most of the dinner with the hubby, while I ‘oversaw’ them.
Sam made the fluffiest, really stunning, mashed potatoes; and Josh, who normally only eats meat (as long as you call it chicken), breads, and sweets, made the most perfect apple pie! I guess I did make the piecrust, because, well, my pies are great- or were. Jeff covered the turkey; and Barb the gravy and stuffing along with her green beans.
It was a wonderful thanksgiving, in spite of my back pain (I had to admit).
The next year, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I cut off the tips of three fingers with a mandolin. I couldn’t touch anything without making a bloody mess. NO prep or cooking at all this time.
Once again, they made the meal while I sat and watched. This time, able to touch no-thing, you’d think I’d get it. And I kind of did.
Over the next few years, we shifted. I stopped pretending to have control and made only the dishes I wanted; Jeff made turkey and fixings. I let Sam and Josh help me make the dish they wanted, or not at all.
But the meal still lacked that remembered warmth, even if there was a glow from wine.
Last year, a few weeks after the hubby asked for divorce, I didn’t eat with family, not just because it would be unpleasant (although that IS enough reason), I was lucky a vegan friend invited me to dinner and I was ready for a change.
Her dinner was delicious and felt guilt-free. Best of all, I finally learned to make a delectable tofu turkey (or at least now, I’ve seen the recipe). For the record, it is NOT tofurky!
This year, there’s no big meal here. That’s OK. I’d rather be by myself, than eating among critics (which is a no-no anyway, according to the rules for ‘magicians’) or bitter complainers, such as my (ex-)in-laws.
This is an example of how a thing can shift with more or less ease.
There are other examples of how a thing can shift. Just look at what the covid-19, is bringing to the tradition, crash landing in our midst. There will be fewer and smaller zoom feasts, at least in my neck of the woods.
Bless you all, we’ll get through this. I know it! But whatever you feast on, make sure and bless your plate.
For the record, they all three came bearing me a warm plate. We visited outside for an hour and it was pleasant all around- a most wonderful improvement!
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Many of them, especially my uncle Rick (may he R.I.P, he was like a teddy bear), were the sole breadwinner vice-president of little Aetna, and technically made it “all possible”, or so they said at the time.
Those years I was in foster care and it was hard not to feel alien, let alone included.
This was not my imagination.
I probably ate crow and even went to the chiropractor – which always felt uncomfortable. Chiropractors, they call themselves “doctors” and make wild claims that seem irresponsible- to me, Miss Evidence-based medicine physician (or was, until now).
But it was still parallel play and not warmly interactive.