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 …
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.
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.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.