“I can’t tell you how much I used to dread Thanksgiving,” my mother said yesterday as we headed out to the grocery store to do our shopping for the big dinner. ”My mother used to invite everybody over and then bitch about it for days. She made life miserable for me and Dad for weeks. “
I looked at her aghast. My childhood memories of Thanksgiving were pure happiness. I never sensed any tension or angst…all I recall were the wonderful aromas and tastes of my southern grandmother’s cuisine. The huge turkey, slowly roasting all day long in the oven (“Oh yes,” said my mother, “she woke us all up at the crack of dawn to get that turkey in the oven by 7:00 so it could cook all day long”), stuffed with the moist, savory dressing (“I had to search all over town for fresh sage to put in that stuffing”), and smothered in rich, brown gravy (“She wouldn’t let anybody else stir that gravy for fear it would be lumpy!”)
Well. Who knew? I was so tickled at the prospect of a house full of people, all my my favorite aunts and uncles with their interesting conversations, laughing and telling stories about family members I’d never seen. And all the while the day had been filled with aggravation for my mother.
Of course, 40 years later, I’m no stranger to the memory of aggravating holidays. When Jim and I married, it somehow evolved in our little family that his mother would prepare the Thanksgiving day dinner at our house. (The one they so graciously sold to us when we got married while they moved into a tiny apartment which was of course far too small to serve Thanksgiving dinner.) So every year she’d appear (at the crack of dawn so she could get the turkey in the oven) and then be puttering around in my kitchen all day, muttering about the way I arranged things or cleaned things or didn’t have the right kind of things.
However, if you were to ask my son, he might recall the times he stood on a tiny step-stool and helped Grandma prepare the turkey, watching intently as she cleaned out the cavity and tied the drumsticks together with twine. Or he might remember running into the kitchen each time the oven door opened, so he could hold the baster and squeeze hot pan drippings over the bird’s golden breast. He might not have had any inkling that his mother was in her bedroom, silently screaming.
All that’s left of those holidays are memories -for my son, who lives far away and is never home on Thanksgiving; for me, who has dinner with an ever diminishing number of people; and for my mother, who prepares the meal for the three of us in her own kitchen and in her own expert and individual way.
Thanksgiving is becoming more and more the forgotten holiday, crammed in between Halloween and Christmas which garner a lot more attention in this consumer driven society of ours. We’re even having our regular trash pickup on Thursday – as long as I’ve lived here, pickup was postponed until Friday on Thanksgiving week. I’m not sure I approve of that. I think the sanitation workers should have Thursday so they could enjoy dinner with their families and friends same as nearly everyone else.
Thanksgiving is a holiday built around emotions – of being grateful for family and friends, for health and happiness, and food on the table. It’s not about buying presents, or wearing costumes, or elaborate fireworks displays. It’s not even about concerts of beautiful music, or rooms of gorgeous decorations.
It’s simply about making memories, good or bad.
I hope you make some lovely ones this year.
(note: This post was originally published in November 2010.)