Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, now

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.

Thanksgiving 2016

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.