Sunday, November 18, 2012

Staying Home?

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."
Willy Wonka


  1. Thank you, Deb! That means a lot to me. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving Day.

  2. I cooked the meal when my girls were growing up. Their dad and I had joint custody. They'd go to their paternal grandmother's for lunch, back to my house for supper. But now, food doesn't have a pull for me anymore. I just eat whatever is around most of the time and call it good.

    1. Every family is different, isn't it, Brenda? I remember that R.H. and I went to his mother's for noon Thanksgiving and mine for a evening meal. I can't remember whether we felt we were expected to or maybe neither one of us wanted to miss our own mother's cooking. But I never wanted our married kids to feel like they couldn't make their own plans. One son and his wife (who works long hours in retail) love to go to a movie and then to a restaurant alone, another usually spends Thanksgiving with his wife's family and Christmas with us, the other son and his wife alternate with us, and our daughter and her husband live in Florida and will be here with us this year. Last year she shopped for and cooked almost the entire meal here. This year we're thinking that it might be good to have time to just visit and let someone else do the cooking. I wish you could be here with us and either eat here with us or go out to eat with us. And just visit. You take care.

  3. I just found you via Cozy Little House. I loved this post... you speak from the heart, and it is just how I felt, too, after years and then being abandoned as the kids went elsewhere. Now there are just the two of us, and we make it a baking day, and a peaceful luncheon!

    1. Mary Ann, what a wonderful idea! I showed my husband your comment and he is going to help me with Christmas baking for the freezer. He loves to deliver baked goods at Christmas to the neighbors so he is totally in! Thanks!

  4. Well thank you, Mary Ann. I think there are a lot of us out there and there does come a time to think about how many days after Thanksgiving Day you want to be exhausted. Your day with your husband to bake sounds nice. Y'all have a nice day!

  5. Dewena, thank you so much for your comment on my blog yesterday about Thanksgiving. It helped me get through the day and determine that the next day would be better, and it was. (Smile) My heart went out to you as I read about your two sons watching Seinfeld during the dinner you cooked. I went through that one year with my sons and husband talking the whole dinner about fixing a car... Families grow and change and we have to change too. I'm looking forward to eating out and then the look on my grown men son's faces when I bring out the homemade pies. Sincerely, Dewena, I wish for you and your husband special time together this year.

    By the way, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your from the heart, picture painting, style of writing. You have a wonderful way of connecting with your reader! So glad I found your blog via Cozy Little House.

  6. Why thank you so much, Lottie. I'm so glad we connected over sharing this desire to make Normal Rockwell holidays and yet knowing that it's often impossible. We can do what we can and let someone else do it when we can't. Let me know how the pies turn out, won't you and thank you for your encouraging comment about my blog. That is so sweet. I think your blog is very much from the heart also. And it makes me so happy to see you talk to Mary Ann above about their plans. I love having a dialogue going on about this subject.

  7. I loved reading your memories of Thanksgiving past. I, too, have struggled with keeping the tradtions of Thanksgiving past and creating new tradtions. Certain circumstances keep me from providing a tradtional Thanksgiving for my family these days... I try to remember that Aunt Etta did not work, her husband did not suffer from early heart disease and never really exercised. We cannot eat the way we did before hubby had heart attack. My family understands and enjoys our laid back day which consists of participating in the 4 mile Turkey Trot through Shelby Farms, meeting for a breakfast out and later grilled steaks and potatoes! When I feel nostolgic tomorrow, I am going to read your wonderful blog again and again! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

  8. I think you have great wisdom and have wholeheartedly given yourself to improving your husband's health and your own. I am so proud of you! Loved reading about your Turkey Trot on Facebook. Zack ran in the Boulevard Bolt this morning, and my grandson's girlfriend told me last night that her whole family has the tradition of running in it every year. And what a beautiful Tennessee Day we had for it. It sounds like you had a happy Thanksgiving. We drove the Natchez Trace some today and got out to view the beautiful bridge and scenery and then went to the Loveless for dinner, with Christy & Bryan who are here visiting with us. Lovely day, a delicious meal, and no dishes to wash! It suited us this year.Love to you and yours!

  9. My dear Dewena,

    You have expressed so many shared sentiments in this thoughtful post about the traditions of Thanksgiving and so many other feelings that we experience every day. Like you and your sisters, my siblings and I grew up with all the North American ideals, especially during holiday season and it was delightful. But, here in Greece, Thanksgiving does not exist. Christmas was overshadowed by Easter, the majority of Greeks, myself included, being Orthodox and quite religious. Well, I wouldn't have that! Easter is a serious occasion, but Christmas is joyous and fun! After my daughter was born, I made sure she was brought up with her mother's shared nationalities and cultural influences,and both Thanksgiving and Christmas were done 'Canadian style', as my husband's clan chose to christen my gatherings. That was fine with me. Guess what? Twenty-five years later, they anxiously await my turkey stuffing on the day of thanks, and painted cut-out cookies at Christmas!

    Your own account of Thanksgiving, family fluctuations, delights and disenchantment, is something we all experience as we age. If we can accept that this is something natural on our path in life, the road will be less bumpy.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Your words inspire reflection and subsequent serenity.



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