This morning I woke up thinking about past Thanksgivings.
This year, my husband and I will be alone for Thanksgiving. Our two sons live far away and we have no family gatherings to attend this year. We are leaving for Jamaica the following day, so we will cook a small turkey breast and stay home alone. Even though I have a wonderful vacation to look forward to, I still feel a little sad or maybe just nostalgic. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I miss those big family gatherings.
It began with those big family dinners on the farm hosted by my grandparents. It is really possible that it snowed every year? Seems like we had snow on every Thanksgiving back then. My grandmother was a wonderful cook. She cooked for days. She made the moistest turkey and tastiest pies and cakes. She cooked many of her dishes on an old wood burning cookstove in her kitchen although she had a modern gas stove. It was amazing. She filled her dining room table with side dishes and salads using recipes handed down from her own mother and grandmother. Her table could hold 12 people. There were usually ten adults so two children were allowed at the table and the rest of my cousins and siblings had to sit at the children’s table in the kitchen. It was amazing food, conversation, and fun. Afterwards, the women would clean up, put away the food, and hand wash and dry the dishes while gossiping. The men disappeared to watch tv and the kids would go for a walk, play outside, or upstairs. There was a lot of sliding down the banister and the stairs. It was a warm, festive, and family bonding event and I absolutely loved it.
Then came Thanksgiving celebrations at my mother’s house. It took her several years to perfect her meal. Every year, something didn’t turn out quite right. The turkey was too dry, the mashed potatoes were too lumpy, the gravy wouldn’t thicken. We didn’t care. It was just fun getting together. Then came the holidays that were difficult. Some of us had to work or had sick children and my mother was relentless about nagging us to come. My brother was usually rude and critical. He seems to get depressed around Thanksgiving but perks up at Christmas. My mother can be very bitchy. She would bicker with my dad. Both my parents had favorite children and seemed to dote on the favorites more and more as we all got older. My siblings and I seemed to get more competitive and envious as time passed. My sister was jealous of my baking ability and my nicer home. She would make fun of my taste in clothing and decorating. We were all aggravated with the favoritism shown towards my brother who was the only male in the family. It escalated when my father became ill with Alzheimer’s and it was almost a relief when we stopped getting together after his passing.
Then I had to start cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner for my husband and children. My husband loved it and I actually enjoyed cooking. I learned to make turkey and pumpkin pie. I learned to cheat on making gravy – adding a little turkey drippings to bottled gravy makes it taste like homemade. I made everyone’s favorite dishes. I usually invited my mother and she came to entertain. She usually had several Thanksgiving dinners lined up with her other children.
After my daughter left home, she began cooking her own meals. Her husband worked retail and liked to stay home on Thanksgiving and rest up for the season. She cooked Thanksgiving dinner for us several times. They were lovely meals. She was an excellent cook. She passed away a few years ago and we still miss her terribly.
Thanksgiving is a little sad for my husband and I. We miss our sons who are not able to join us. We grieve for our daughter and our fathers and our dysfunctional families. Unfortunately, you just can’t fix stupid, jealous, misery loving family members who do not want to be in the same house with each other. We find ourselves looking for new ways to celebrate. We go out for Thanksgiving buffets, we invite friends over, we take trips. Nothing seems to work. It is what it is.
I know family get-togethers are not perfect and I know I was probably unaware of any unhappiness going on at my grandparents house. Those early years make me crave those old time family gatherings. It seemed like a very happy time to me. But, surviving family squabbles, coping with annoying family members, enduring blatant favoritism is very stressful. It is so emotional and it can be so disappointing. It shouldn’t be that way. It is absolutely not like the movies.
I always thought that Thanksgiving was about family and it is. More importantly, Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what you have. I have so many good memories of past Thanksgivings. I have a wonderful husband. I have two healthy sons and daughter-in-laws. I have two healthy, wonderful step-grandchildren and hope to see more grandkids arrive in the future. My mother, siblings, nephews and nieces are alive and somewhat happy. I have many, many blessings.
Thanksgiving is about “thanks” and “giving”. I am thankful for all blessings in my life. I need to be more “giving” and I will reflect on how I can do so as this year winds down and a new one begins. It is the “giving” which is probably what I’m missing and need. It could fill the sadness and emptiness I feel on holidays. Maybe I just need to accept the changes that each year brings and make the best of them. Be more compassionate and tolerant.
On Thanksgiving Eve, I will cook a small meal and maybe invite a friend for dinner. We will celebrate by finding a place with loud music and have a few drinks. It should be a lot of fun. Thanksgiving day, we will call our sons and wish them a happy thanksgiving. We will take a long walk, eat leftovers, drink champagne, prepare for our vacation, and maybe go see a movie. It’s different but it will be fun.
It is time to smile, be happy, and enjoy the holiday.