There’s no Norman Rockwell-esque, happy-family-gathered-around-a-bounteous-feast scenario in my Thanksgiving memory bank. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to be grateful for, however. In fact, I’d start my gratitude list with the fact that this year, it’s just my husband and me and a 10 lb. turkey getting together for the holiday.
Here are some scenes from previous Thanksgivings that make me thankful for this family-free holiday:
My grandmother’s lips pressed into a tight, thin line when Uncle Emery, her “baby,” showed up late—and drunk, again—for dinner. Then she focused more on getting him to eat the meal than my grandfather, who had lost his taste for food because he was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. He died four weeks later.
My mother falling asleep at the table in the midst of dinner at my friends’ house. Turns out, she had narcolepsy, but we didn’t know it then. I thought it was the wine (because we did know she had a problem with that).
My widowed grandmother sitting on the couch stone-faced, arms crossed, the first year I hosted Thanksgiving after Grampie’s death, pissed because dinner wasn’t on the table exactly at noon. (“Your grandfather and I always had dinner at noon. I sure hope you’re having turnip, because it’s just not Thanksgiving without turnip. You are having turnip, aren’t you? I hope it’s not woody; I hate woody turnip.”)
That same year, my mother insisting on taking a plateful of food to the “awfully thin girl” working on Thanksgiving Day at my neighborhood convenience store. “Mom, I know your intentions are good, but she’s so thin because she has anorexia,” I told her. “Well, she still needs to eat,” Mom huffed as she marched off to the store, plate in hand.
My sister calling me less than an hour before she and her family are due at my house for Thanksgiving and asking if one of her twenty-something daughter’s girlfriends can come for dinner, too. “You remember Cassandra,” my sister says. “She’s the one who hooked up with the truck driver she met on the internet and took off with him for a couple of months. Well, she’s back and her family doesn’t want anything to do with her, so she doesn’t have anyplace to go for Thanksgiving.” In the spirit of the holiday, what could I say but okay?
My brother-in-law making passive-aggressive “suggestions” to my half-sister throughout our entire holiday visit one year (“Gee, Steph, are you sure you cooked the turkey enough?” “Gee, Steph, why did you use these wine glasses?” “Gee, Steph, why didn’t you get one percent milk instead of two percent?” “Gee, Steph, don’t you think you should cut Dylan’s turkey into smaller pieces?”). They are now divorced.
Sometimes the turkeys
are sitting at the table.
Know what I’m saying?
Don’t get me wrong—I love my family. But I learned that I could love them better from a distance, especially around the holidays. For me, the concept of family has always been more appealing than my reality of it, so I learned to limit my exposure and curb my expectations. To surround myself with people who nourish me instead of wear me out. And to give myself permission to let go of the “shoulds” when it comes to holidays (as in, “I should spend Thanksgiving with my family”) and, instead, create my own traditions. As a result, I end up having the kind of day for which I can feel truly grateful.
This year, I will wake up while it’s still dark on Thanksgiving morning, make a cup of tea and offer up thanks for the stress-free day ahead of me. I will stand by the slider in the den and watch the trees on the horizon emerge from the darkness as the sun rises. I will revel in the quiet. I will acknowledge—without guilt—the relief I feel that I don’t have to deal with drunken, dysfunctional or impossible-to-please relatives during the day ahead. Mom’s been gone now for six years, Nana for nearly 16, Uncle Emery for 21.
I will put the turkey in the oven, peel vegetables (including turnip), make a pie, then kick back with a good book and some kick-ass blues playing in the background. Maybe I’ll take a nap. Maybe Hubs and I will go for a walk. We’ll FaceTime my stepson, daughter-in-law and grandson. I will text my sister in California—the one blood relative whose presence I do miss.
Hubs and I will have dinner around 6:00 p.m., by candlelight, and talk about what we’re thankful for. As we clean up and put away the leftovers, we’ll talk about how we’re going to spend our long weekend. After dinner, we’ll take our pie into the den and watch something on Netflix. We’ll turn in early, sated and grateful for the day’s ordinariness.
Then, before I fall asleep, I will offer up another prayer of thanks for all that I have. And for what’s missing.