When I was a kid, we always lived far away from our extended family. For our little family, this meant spending all of our holidays on our own. This didn’t stop my mom from going all-out. For Thanksgiving, we would have a turkey that weighed as much as a toddler, which my mom put in the oven in the wee hours Thanksgiving morning, basting it with butter every hour (the turkey, not the toddler). The aroma of roasting turkey wafted into our dreams, and we awoke Thanksgiving morning with our mouths already watering.
Along with the turkey, we would have stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade rolls and canned cranberry sauce and—my favorite—the relish plate. Our relish plate was olives (green and black both; it was a special occasion, after all) and pickle spears and sometimes deviled eggs. By the time I got done eating olives off the tips of my fingers and licking the deviled-egg filling out of the cooked egg whites, I had little room for dinner.
My job each year was to set the table. I had a minor addiction to etiquette books back then, and I knew just where to place each utensil, plate, and glass. We used the good silverware on holidays, the set with all of the extra utensils that my etiquette books listed. To my annoyance, we only ever needed dessert forks for our pumpkin pie (never dessert spoons), we never had a sorbet palate cleanser between courses, and my mom insisted we did not need to use seafood forks for turkey. We did get to use the lead crystal stemware, though. We each got two glasses, one for water and the other for white wine (for the grown-ups) or white milk (for the kids). I would spend a good hour getting the table just right, napkin rings and all.
Then we would eat, and that would take about thirty minutes, and then there would be hours of dishes to do and leftovers in front of the television.
Thanksgiving for my own family is a little different. We still live far from extended family—we’ve not had Thanksgiving with the families for more than a decade, beyond a morning Skype date with my in-laws—but every year we spend the holiday with friends. When we lived in Utah, we celebrated mostly with friends and their extended families, but when we lived in California and now in Massachusetts, we most often get to be the ambassadors for United States Thanksgiving for friends from other countries.
This year and last, we had friends from India and Romania over. It’s freeing that I don’t need to compete with any of their own childhood memories of the holiday. I make a very traditional menu, with a little nontraditional twist on each menu item: the turkey is fresh, local, and free-range; the mashed potatoes have the skins on and are made with non-dairy milk; the sweet potatoes are roasted with shallots and habañeros; the pumpkin pie is vegan and gluten-free; and the cranberry sauce is actually a raw cranberry relish made without cane sugar.
They bring a bottle of wine and veggie dishes to share, and we all have way too much food and not enough conversation. The kids run around like little fiends and the older girls fend off the more violent advances of my four-year-old, who has yet to learn how to request to be a part of the big-girl fun without biting or kicking. When our friends go home, my spouse and I do dishes together and then put the kids to bed.
It’s a good Thanksgiving.
In keeping with the unwritten law of Thanksgiving blog posts, I’ve made up a gratitude list.
I’m grateful for:
-clean running water.
-dystopian novels that help me feel grateful for clean running water.
-friends who know without asking when I need help with a pan lid or moving something over in the oven.
-long-distance phone calls.
-chilly after-dinner walks.
-quiet time to read.
Written as part of the Remember the Time Blog Hop Thanksgiving theme.