No Turkey Dinner This Year by
(156 Stories)

Prompted By Pandemic Holidays

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I love Thanksgiving. I love the tradition of sharing a meal with family I adore. I love cooking way too much food and gathering together around the table. I love taking time to feel grateful for the blessings in my life.

The winter of my discontent has arrived and I’m feeling exhausted and so sad. There is no turkey to carve.

But this year, for the first time, there will be no Thanksgiving celebration. Just dinner for two.

The pandemic has stolen so much from all of us. Since March, I have missed celebrating almost all of my kids’ and grandkids’ birthdays. My 75th slipped by, with Zoom and FaceTime taking the place of a family gathering. There were no graduations, school plays, swim or track meets, dance performances, skating shows, soccer games — no hugs and sweet kisses — no gatherings with dear friends — and now, no Thanksgiving with those I love (aside from my husband, and I know I am lucky to have him). I am haunted by the ghosts of Thanksgivings past …

I’m seated second from the left

Growing up, I remember celebrating many Thanksgivings like the one in the photo with my siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Of course, we ate turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Remember that mushy green bean casserole with mushroom soup and onion rings? And that plate of jellied cranberries that I loathed, the slices that had strange grooves on the side? It was only as an adult that I learned this version of cranberry sauce came straight from the can, and that cranberries could actually be tasty if prepared differently. My father never had the patience to carve the turkey at the table, so that task was delegated to the women folk preparing the meal. I know, not very Norman Rockwell.

Because my older daughter was born on November 26, the year after her birth, Thanksgiving became my holiday to host as well as the time she celebrated her birthday with our family. For 40 years, I served Thanksgiving dinners in various evolving iterations. My husband’s ever-expanding family lived in town, so they always came. My parents traveled to my house every year as well. For a time, my siblings, and eventually their wives, drove in from Michigan. And in the kitchen, my mother-in-law handled the turkey carving duties.

Thanksgiving/my daughter’s birthday, 1987

Years passed and the turkey carving honors were delegated to my husband – still done in the kitchen just as his mother taught him. By this time, my brothers had kids and splintered off to celebrate with their own families in Michigan Still, the numbers grew and grew. Life happened. Babies were born, nieces and nephews married, and Thanksgiving had become unmanageable. By the time I was setting three huge tables and squeezing between 30 to 40 guests into my house, I knew my relationship with this version of Thanksgiving was in trouble. It was time for family counseling or a divorce would be inevitable. My kids were now married and having kids. It was just too much.

Thus, Thanksgiving evolved once again. My mother-in-law and my parents died, my husband’s family broke into smaller units to celebrate, and in subsequent years my husband and I gathered with our two daughters who lived close by and their families. And my grandson asked to help carve the turkey.

I’ll admit to having unrealistic expectations in these years. We should all be dressed nicely. We should go around the table and tell each other what we are thankful for. We should even sit at the table together until the meal was done. Instead, my grandkids came to the table with dress-up clothes on so they could perform to Taylor Swift’s music after eating 20% of the food made especially for them. Someone made a joke about what he or she was thankful for and we never got all of the way around the table. By the end of the meal, maybe four of us were left still eating. And then there were the dishes. How I miss that version of Thanksgiving.

Life happened and we regrouped again, as my younger daughter and her kids joined her new husband’s family. So, while the holiday changed once more, its essence remained the same. The Thanksgiving menu leaves little room for creativity, but no matter how many people came, I still felt obliged to make everyone’s favorites. Of course, this included the turkey, dressing, fresh cranberries, vegetables, and pumpkin pie. But I also needed entrees for vegetarians and fussy grandkids who would not eat most of these traditional foods. And, in the absence of my grandson, one of my granddaughters stepped up to serve as sous chef and carve the turkey.

But this year, the coronavirus has devoured my holiday. We are planning a food exchange with my in-town daughter’s family. I will stuff Cornish hens for the meat-eaters and make pumpkin pie. She will make sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. With masks on, we will exchange the food in disposable containers. Then we will go to our respective homes and eat our meals separately. I know I will be envious of the many folks who will gather with family despite warnings not to do this. They will share their happy holiday pictures on social media. Unfortunately, some of them will also share the COVID-19 they picked up celebrating the holiday I missed.

This year my daughter’s birthday falls right on Thanksgiving, but we won’t be together to sing happy birthday or blow out candles. The winter of my discontent has arrived and I’m feeling exhausted and so sad. There is no turkey to carve.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your celebrations throughout the years sound fun and exhausting. It was the natural order of things that groups would splinter off, but I do feel for you, Laurie. I know how much you miss getting together with your loved ones and you put so much into preparing special food for each.

    My father’s birthday was Nov 23, so it frequently fell on Thanksgiving day itself. I totally relate to your birthday/Thanksgiving celebrations. I couldn’t afford to come home from Brandeis during my freshman or sophomore years, but junior year fell on Dad’s 60th birthday, and my brother had returned from two years in Israel, so the family (all his sisters and brothers) had a big celebration and I did come home for it. It was wonderful to be with my family again (those other years, I went to Patti Zussman’s Boston apartment. She cooked, we hung out, talked and laughed a lot. Then John graduated from Harvard and she transferred to Mills to finish her studies, but we had a great time together.)

  2. John Shutkin says:

    You captured some glorious celebrations, Laurie; exactly what Thanksgiving should be all about. And you so well captured our communal melancholy about this year and, truly, our winter of discontent.

    That said, as you will see from the p.s. to my story, we are at least dressing up this Thanksgiving. Though it feels a bit like the tree falling in the forest when nobody’s around.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie, with your usual collection of wonderful pictures. I especially love the one from your childhood, with little you sitting at the card table in front of the regular table and an amazing number of relatives squeezed in behind. The pics with your kids and grandkds are also great. It’s sad that none of this will happen this year, but we are all in the same boat (I almost said “the same gravy boat”).

    Very beautifully written. Your final paragraph is like poetry.

  4. Laurie, it is a strange year indeed. As John has commented, we’re all writing the same story.

    I’m actually in limbo – as I write this on Saturday night we’re not sure yet if my son will be making the 4-5 hour drive from several states away to join us on Thursday. So we’re keeping an eye on the CDC and our state’s changing Covid requirements.

    But thankful that we’re all still healthy.
    Stay safe Chicago!

  5. Marian says:

    You have described so eloquently the wonder of Thanksgiving, Laurie, and the sadness of how things have changed–and they do. Although, this year, we couldn’t have anticipated how much. My grandfather’s birthday was on November 22, and in my early childhood we always celebrated it on Thanksgiving, which was delightful. Thank you and your story for helping me remember that!

  6. Boy, you nailed the transitions…I have photos that were taken during the same time periods that are almost uncannily similar! You also nailed the feelings of melancholy and discontent, Laurie…I’m so glad you found it within yourself to share your thoughts. I myself am almost without words at this point.

  7. I loved this chronology, watching your family grow and change from pic to pic. Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that we are beginning to see rips and tatters in the curtains of the last four years. We have so many duet stories this year, we should all celebrate our awareness of each others’ lives. We have quite a community here!

  8. Joe Lowry says:

    I like your plans for this year, but let’s hope 2021 gets back to the old traditions. It certainly seems that you have had great times in the past.

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