For the first time since my college days, I will be traveling for Thanksgiving. I won’t be gone for long and I won’t go far, but far enough.
From the time I was barely able to see over the rim of my grandmother’s kitchen table, Thanksgiving has been mine. First, mine and my Granny Opal’s, and then, when she left us, mine alone. I spent every Wednesday before the day with her, helping her, spending the night so I could rise early when she put the bird in the oven.
It is hard to imagine how much help I was at four, five, or six, but my grandmother would sit at her formica table, reviewing pages of notes on her steno pad, and discuss with me the timing of things—when to peel the potatoes, when to wash the cranberries, when to assemble the pies. I had opinions on these matters. We negotiated.
The last thing I asked before sleep was to be awakened to help put the bird in the oven, always received the promise that she would comply. I awoke to the aroma of roasting turkey, never too disappointed with the turn of events, because there was still plenty to do. I was convinced at a tender age that I was the linchpin to our successful celebrations, and I still think so, even though our family is diminished and far-flung this year.
Even though I won’t be making the turkey, the cranberry salad, the gravy.
I will, however, be in charge of dressing. I have my shopping list compiled and at the ready, for I have committed to bringing everything we will need for the dish that has graced our family’s table, going back to the last century, and maybe beyond.
It is the one thing my niece, Alex, has asked that I prepare. She will be hosting her family and her fellow’s family in Louisiville this year, a celebration of her new home, her new job, a new life starting out. I am included, too, and could I help out with the dressing?
My contribution to Thanksgiving has been reduced to this, dressing, and I have attacked it with a battle plan worthy of a White House State dinner. I assured her I would bring every thing we will need. The stale bread, onion and celery, but also butter, chicken stock, and just in case, the eggs.
I do not trust her to have eggs.
It is her first Thanksgiving, after all, and we all know how hard it is to have everything you need on hand. Or perhaps I am motivated by something else.
Perhaps the dressing must be all mine, my contribution, my small put perfect gift to the Thanksgiving table.
This new Thanksgiving table, in this new millennium with this new family configured from remnants of several old ones.
Tonight I will sit at an unfamiliar kitchen table, chopping onions with Alex. She has been working on Thanksgiving dinner for days…thinking, planning, shopping, and thinking some more. I am sure she will have questions. I hope she will have questions.
I’m bringing some other things she might need, a meat thermometer, coffee, extra aluminum foil. I won’t foist these things on her, but will have them waiting, just in case, my version of promising to wake her up for the turkey but letting her sleep a bit more.
I am proud of this young woman, proud to be her aunt. I can’t wait to see her life unfold, and to be a part of it. And, if I am honest, I am grateful for the invitation for Thanksgiving, grateful to only have dressing to prepare. I am thankful for a sense of peace and acceptance as tradition passes from aging hands to new ones.