My sisters and I were so blessed to have parents who gave us pleasant memories of Thanksgiving Day, gentle days of childhood caught in golden amber.
Unlike Christmas Day when we left home after opening presents to travel to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee to visit my father's parents, onThanksgiving Day we stayed home. We watched Macy's Christmas Parade on television. Mama cooked. Daddy helped her, sometimes after returning home from cooking at the men's country ham breakfast at church.
I set the table and arranged a centerpiece.
After dinner I dried the dishes that my sister Deb washed, but I didn't help with the cooking. Ever. I began married life knowing how to make cream puffs and egg sandwiches. I am embarrassed to remember some of the meals I served my young husband, but then some I serve him today do not thrill us either.The only difference is that we used to argue about it.
"You mean all you fixed for supper is beans? Just pork 'n beans?"
Even now some of my meals are great, most are good, and a few turn out to be real stinkers. We don't argue over something so trivial now. We know it all balances out.
When the holidays begin to approach, out come my Thanksgiving and Christmas recipe files and I always--always--plan a marathon of cooking. When I was younger most of what I planned to cook and bake actually got done as I happily cocooned in my kitchen.
In 2000, when our youngest son Defee left for college, R.H. and I couldn't wait for him to come home for Thanksgiving, especially since we were empty nesters for the first time, Zack having moved out of dorm life and into his own apartment that summer. We wanted Thanksgiving Day to be perfect for our two returning sons. For the first time ever in the same year, our older children, Gurn and Christy, would each be spending Thanksgiving Day with the in-laws.
As Dee Hardie says in Views from Thornhill, "Once your children marry, you become an Alternating Holiday."
I planned a relaxed casual Thanksgiving Day for the four of us. It was casual enough. Zack and Defee didn't want to turn off the television for dinner.
"We don't have company, Mom."
Was I going to spoil the day for my two adult prodigal sons? Not on your life, so it was our first Thanksgiving dinner ever eaten staring at the television screen. There was no dinner conversation, just laughs directed at the Seinfield episode. Not that it mattered much by that time as I was too tired to take part in profound conversation anyway. I had just cooked a full homemade Thanksgiving dinner all by myself, hours of work that was eaten in twenty minutes flat without the benefit of memorable Thanksgiving dinner conversation.
Only the T.V. remote close to Zack's hand.
That night after R.H. helped me clean up the kitchen, I wearily collapsed in my chair and hassock in the bedroom. Then came a watershed experience. My first thought was this--"Never again." Then came--"I'm too old for this." My earthshaking subsequent thought was--"Next year we're going to the mountains or somewhere. We're eating out. We're not staying home."
Times change. Families change. We get older, in body if not in spirit.
I did not want Thanksgiving Day to change, just the way I celebrated it. I wanted to sleep in on Thanksgiving Day and not set my alarm for 5 a.m.
Watch the parades.
Putter. Step outside and walk through our valley.
I wanted to dress up and put on my makeup, maybe even get around to wearing jewelry.
I wanted to go out to eat. Sit down to a meal totally cooked, served, and cleaned up after by staff who get paid to do it.
[Publick House, Better Homes & Gardens, November 1958]
I began to waver. But it's Thanksgiving. It's a tradition. My mother did it more years than I have. She too was exhausted afterwards, but she did it. Guilt convicted me. The Ghosts of Mrs. Cleavers Past sentenced me to a lifetime of hard labor at Thanksgiving. The bars slammed shut. Neither would Mrs. Cleaver, nor my mother, nor even my grandmothers in their heavenly home pardon me or let me out on parole.
[Farmer's Wife, November 1933. Cover by Revere F. Wistehuff]
Only way down inside a still small voice begged to be heard. It said with insistence. "Dewena, the key is in your own hand." And so bravely, I determined to unlock the door and walk through, deciding that my thanksgivings were growing shorter. Whether I had many more or few, I had to find a way to spend them thankfully.
Did we stay home? The heartbreaking events of September 11, 2011 made us doubt we could give up Thanksgiving at home. Give up such bedrock traditions as homemade dressing, place cards made by Zack when he was ten, sitting around the table after dinner telling what we were most thankful for, leftovers to consume for days? The three day cooking marathon required to pull it all off? I had looked forward to one leisurely Thanksgiving Day, only perhaps 2001 wasn't the best year to make such a harsh break with the past?
As I stewed on this throughout October and early November living under the same emotion laden cloud as all Americans did that autumn of 2001, I drew comfort from many things--my faith, family, home, and my dear pets.
And to be honest, haven't women always headed for the kitchen when their hearts are troubled, when they want to comfort themselves and their loved ones with meals that nourish the spirit as well as the body? There would be other years to modify this traditional family holiday.
[Ladies Home Journal November 1973]
But still, times change, families change. Perhaps your family has changed too.
Perhaps we'll eat out this year and then return home for desserts.
Pies. I like to make pies. This might be the year we don't use the Spode china that has no name. I call it my Italian Villa Spode. God willing and the creek don't rise there will be other Thanksgiving Days to use this Spode.
"So little to do and so much time to do it."