A year ago I sat in my quiet house, admired the clean and uncluttered surfaces of my kitchen and pouted a little, even so, because I wasn’t in charge of Thanksgiving, wasn’t roasting the bird, wasn’t making the dressing or the elaborate and time-consuming cranberry salad.
For the first time since college I was spending Thanksgiving off, traveling to Louisville to be a guest of my niece and her fella, spending a couple of days with them, my brother and sister-in-law, my nephew, Dillion, and the dog.
Alex was solicitous when she showed me to my room that Wednesday. Did I have enough covers? Was the lamp bright enough to read by? And, look. Dan ran out and got a nightlight for the hall, the steps being steep and the light switch hard to find.
After morning coffee there wasn’t much for me to do. She settled me into the sofa and turned on Netflix to a show she thought I might enjoy. It was a little like being a toddler.
The day went without a hitch. The food was great, Dan’s family delightful, and really, except for the dog dragging the turkey carcass into the living room after dessert, all was perfect.
I had to admit, it was nice being a guest, getting fussed over a little, and contributing next to nothing but doing the dishes. And even that was less about being helpful than it was about avoiding the traditional Thanksgiving hike Dan’s family seemed so enamored of.
I was invited to return to Louisville this year but I will stay put, back in the business of roasting the bird and doing the dressing. I’ll celebrate with my sister and her family, a smaller gathering than in years past, but one I am pleased about, one I am looking forward to.
It has been a year of change and adjustment, a year of fits and starts, with connections and separations that come to all families as children grow up, parents and grandparents leave you, and work and life rub blisters here, create opportunities there. Everything in flux, up in the air, eventually falling back to earth in configurations you don’t always recognize or understand.
But this is nothing new. Life moves. And we move with it. It expands and contracts and veers off to the left, and here we go, eyes wide open or squeezed shut, but at least one hand still wrapped around the reins. The stirrups may be flapping wildly, our hats have come off, but we don’t let go.
I’ve sent Alex the family dressing and egg nog recipes as she has asked. But I called her, too, because I need to explain things, make sure I tell her what Granny Opal told me when she guided my hands all those Thanksgivings ago. There is the recipe and there is the process. This is what I tell myself Alex needs to know.
How fine to chop the onions, how many eggs to loaves of stale bread. Time and temperature. The production that is making egg nog, whisking whites, long enough but not too long, how to judge when to stop. She can look all of this up, of course, can find better recipes on-line, perhaps, find more sophisticated ways of doing things. But that is to miss the point.
What I mean is this. I want to instruct her as I was instructed, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen. I want Alex to be there, too. I want her to have more than just a spattered index card. I want her dressing in Louisville to join in concentric circles my dressing in Owensboro, and Granny Opal’s from 1948. I want her Thanksgiving table to join with ours, and the tables of our grandmothers, and their mothers’ tables, ones laid in distant dining rooms we would not recognize, but belonging to us, all the same.