I remember the hot kitchen, the wonderful smells, my grandma in her white "cooking dress" making sure that everything was just right. I remember the spotless white linen tablecloth and napkins, the polished silver, the gleaming china and crystal, the place settings arranged just right, no fork out of place.
I remember the small family gathered about, just five of us, my father silent as usual, my mother trying to be helpful despite her barely-disguised dislike of her mother-in-law. I remember my brother impatiently waiting for the food, eager to escape to a more active atmosphere somewhere, perhaps a ball game with his friends if the weather was good. I remember sneaking just one more chocolate from the Whitman’s Sampler box that was a holiday tradition. I had no fear of "spoiling" my gigantic appetite when I was surrounded by such great smells!
I remember my own little apartment kitchen, my husband struggling to cook everything on the tiny stove and in the tiny oven while I tried to find places for all the mismatched plates on the long, makeshift table with the slightly stained gold permanent press tablecloth. The napkins were paper.
I remember the crowd of ten or twelve crammed into the little apartment, mostly the single patrons of my husband’s bar who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Family Thanksgivings had been a tradition in my husband’s family, so this was an important day for him. I was as inept at cooking then as I am now, but he did it enthusiastically. Most of the guests were men, and they ate every crumb of food. We seldom had leftovers in those years. A few guests fell asleep immediately after dinner, usually on the floor if any space was available there. We continued this Thanksgiving dinner tradition for several years after we moved to our house nearby. It was not a large house, but we filled it with good food and holiday joy for many of the same guests, and a few more.
I remember the year when we finally ran out of friends to invite for Thanksgiving dinner; everyone had a family and lived in the suburbs by then, while we were still a city family of two. We made reservations for dinner at the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock Center. It seemed very expensive to my frugal husband, but he ultimately enjoyed the experience. We ate so much at the sumptuous buffet that we couldn’t eat much of the small turkey provided for us, so we took it home (as advertised and recommended). Jules made turkey soup and turkey sandwiches enough to last at least a week. I think we got our money’s worth that year.
I remember our last Thanksgiving together in 1999. It was also my last Thanksgiving with my mother, who was eighty-eight years old by then and living in a retirement condo in Northfield, Minnesota. My nephew and his wife cooked dinner at their house, and two grand-nieces were there as well. The food was fine, but I remember little about it. My mother lived on until this year, and I always sent her flowers for Thanksgiving. However, I didn’t join her in Northfield for the holiday again.
I remember mostly that my husband was not feeling well on Thanksgiving, 1999, that he left immediately after dinner to return to the motel to rest. That was very uncharacteristic of him; he was usually the life of the party. I was very worried. He seemed to feel better later, but it wasn’t long after our return home that his pancreatic cancer was diagnosed. He would die in March of the following year.
I remember later Thanksgivings with a friend’s family, including her husband and her two daughters. That tradition, begun when Jules was still alive, ended when one of my friends’ daughters moved away and her parents began to visit her for Thanksgiving. I understood.
This year, I’ll enjoy my Lean Cuisine turkey dinner, watch parades on television, read, write, and feel content. I may even open a bottle of Chardonnay. I’ve come to terms with the changes brought by aging and the passing of time and loved ones, and it’s all right. However, I am happy to remember those Thanksgivings from the past and many more, the good and the bad. Life goes on.
Ready for a Thanksgiving joke?
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne