Wednesday, November 24, 2004

it's not about the feast

I just wrote a grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner. All my life, I have been a participant in someone else's dinner. My Mom made a marvelous feast every year I was growing up and for several more once I was on my own. At some point, the duties shifted to my sister-in-law, with the occasional visit to my sister who has hosted it for the last couple years. I only ever had to bring a side dish or appetizer.

When I lived in Seattle, I never traveled home for this holiday and so I was a guest of my friends' and roommates' families. In 1994, my roommates and I rented a cabin on Orcas Island. It had only cold running water and no bathroom (we had to hike to a central facility), and we packed in all our trimmings to prepare there. We made Cornish game hens instead of a big turkey. I spent my time in the cabin doting on one of the stray cats who wandered the grounds (a giant, solid gray cat we called "Smokestack") and crafting hand-made Christmas cards from hundreds of old cards. Oh, and I did test out the outdoor hot tubs. Definitely an alternative Thanksgiving.

In 1996, I made Thanksgiving dinner for myself and a friend. There were some modifications, the biggest of which was preparing a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. Despite the theoretically scaled-down nature of the meal, it was still a lot of time and work to put together. And even though it was fabulous, the two most vivid memories of that day were the kitchen sink backing up (and my friend running around town looking for an open store to buy Drano) and me being sick (and therefore not hungry).

For Ted's and my first Thanksgiving together in 1997, I flew to Phoenix and we partook of an enormous holiday dinner in Sedona where a friend of his owns a cliffside inn. We toured the holiday lights and marveled at the snow (even though I knew we were going to be in the mountains, I just don't associate Arizona with snow). The next year, we ate at restaurant in one of Seattle's downtown hotels. The year after that, I had already moved to New England for my new job, and Ted was still in Seattle finishing up his old one. I crashed the dinner of my college roommate, Pam, and her husband, Craig. Ted visited a different Seattle restaurant. Since we settled down in Connecticut, we have had a combination of alternative and traditional Thanksgivings.

In 2000, we spent the holiday with Ted's stepmom, Shirley, and her daughter's family. Although I had obviously met Shirley, Lisa, Bob, Geno and Timmy by then, it was the first time I got to meet Bob's brothers and sisters. So, it was a nice family holiday, while feeling a bit like a get-to-know-you mixer.

The next year, we stayed in Norwalk and dined at the Silvermine Tavern. Although it was a neat setting, the food -- while good -- was a bit restaurant-y. Given that we weren't with family that day, the lack of a familiar feast-type dinner made the day seem like just another day. The next year, we drove to Northern Vermont to stay at a wonderful bed and breakfast that was so remote, it didn't have locks on the doors. Now, that was a spectacular feast. But talking to the family on the phone just seemed weird. And there was the added challenge of notable snowfall almost every day we were there. Last year, we returned to New Hampshire and the Cox family dinner. At the risk of sounding corny, it felt like home. Well, it was my sister's home, so I guess it was! :-)

But this year, I will once again be making that modified Thanksgiving dinner that I first attempted in 1996, this time for Ted and me. Ted's new job requires him to work Friday and Saturday, and it's too far to make the 5-hour drive each way to join my family at my sister's house for one day. So, I made a list. And save a few items that we otherwise never eat (green olives, cranberry jelly, peas with pearl onions), it looks like any other grocery list. And although I had this meal without my family for all those years I was in Seattle, I will miss being with them tomorrow.

Sure, I see them all the time. I saw all of them (except eldest brother, Gerry, who lives in California) a couple weeks ago, and I will see all of them (including Gerry) a couple weeks from now at Christmas. For me, Thanksgiving has always been about sharing those things for which I'm grateful. My family is always at the top of that list.

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