I’m Not Going Home for Thanksgiving This Year. What Are You Doing? By Dish Stanley

I’m Not Going Home for Thanksgiving This Year. What Are You Doing? By Dish Stanley

. 5 min read

Things are going to be different for Thanksgiving for my family this year, and probably from here on in. I’m working on being okay with that.

Last year my Mother and I spent the three days before Thanksgiving preparing for our family‘s annual gathering at my parents‘ home. A confident and experienced chef, my Mother makes Thanksgiving from recipes that were passed down to her from her adored Father, whose picture (holding a perfectly baked turkey, no less) rests on her kitchen window overlooking the action. I am a decent cook, but in her kitchen I am deferential to her, content as her dutiful sous chef.

My Mother is taciturn, discreet and often infuriatingly unforthcoming by nature, something else her Father passed down to her. Traits that were sometimes painful and difficult for me to understand or accept as her daughter. Growing up I longed for the chatty, easy conversation that I saw between some of my friends and their Mothers. I have come to realize and appreciate, later than I should have, that my Mother‘s reserve is immutably bound up in her loving constancy. Too easy to take for granted if you’ve never lived without it.

I feel closest to my Mother during the holidays, working side-by-side in her kitchen over consecutive days. With her favorite classical music station — 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston — playing in the background, we get into a silent rhythm. Every once in a while there’s even a revelation.

On day three of three in her kitchen last year (in other words, on Thanksgiving) she low-key muttered, “Well, I’m not supposed to tell you but your brother and Alexandra are getting married.” “What?!?! Oh my god, Mom. How is it that you are just telling me this now when I’ve spent the last four days with you?” I blurted.

One reason it was shocking is that my Mother shared it at all. Another was that Alexandra and my brother had broken up “for good” six months earlier after five years of chaotic dating. I had been a supportive older sister to him in the aftermath of the break-up, during which he went through each and every source of conflict and replayed their biggest blow-ups (as one does) so many times I could recite the lines as if they were the lyrics to a Van Morrison song.

“He thinks you might be upset so he wanted to tell you in person. But it’s not clear he‘s going to be able to come over this morning, so I thought it was best if I told you before they show up today for Thanksgiving. Together. Engaged.”

“What?!? I already set the table for 12,” I responded, as if that closed off the possibility of him bringing her, as if adding another place setting would be an absolutely impossible feat.

“Yeah. 12. She is one of the 12.”

“Jesus, Mom. Honestly.”

My Mother’s uncharacteristic indiscretion provided the opportunity for a pithy but critical call between my brother and me that smoothed things out before his arrival with Alexandra hours later. Things got sort of sorted out enough prior to their entrance to allow for genuinely warm greetings all around. And let’s be real, in the real world of families, “sort of sorted out enough” is often as good as it gets. Maturity has given me the wisdom that in family life, a little messy is often the best you can get.

The Thanksgiving meal, however, did not get sorted. I don‘t know whether it was the unexpected news or my Mother’s now occasional forgetfulness (combined with my natural deference to her), but when we put everything into the two ovens we forgot to put any timers on.

Guests arrived. There were hugs and congratulations and an extended hors d’oeuvre period.

Eventually there was also the distinct smell of burning food wafting above our beaujolais nouveau. That smell was our Thanksgiving meal going up in smoke. Burnt. All of it, even my Mother’s scrumptious pumpkin pie.

My sister, thank god, had offered to bring the mashed potatoes, which ended up being our Thanksgiving meal in its entirety. She got the recipe from my Mother and they were perfect and plentiful, mercifully.

One thing, perhaps the only thing, I was feeling particularly grateful for in that moment was that my family has a great sense of humor. “We’re so on trend,” my Father joked, “It was our ozempic Thanksgiving.”

The next morning my Mother came into my bedroom with coffee (just the way I like it, and not too early). “Honey,“ she said, sitting down on the end of my bed “do you think that maybe it‘s time for me to stop hosting these big holiday meals? I mean, I‘m 83.” “Mom,“ I replied “I should have checked that we set the timers. Remember, I did the same thing when I hosted Christmas five years ago? I forgot to set the timers. It’s just that we caught it earlier that year. Anyway, that’s the whole reason I come home in advance of the holidays, to help you with everything. I should have asked about the timers … “

And that’s how it came about that we, my Mother and I, lost Thanksgiving. It got moved this year to my brother and Alexandra’s new home. It is of course a generous and loving act for them to take this family holiday on. My brother is so happy to be hosting something that combines his two families in his home, and I am happy for him. Thanksgiving will no doubt incorporate my Mother’s recipes alongside Alexandra’s family’s Italian traditions and cooking, and I am so good with all that.

But when it comes down to it, Thanksgiving isn‘t really about the meal, is it? My family learned that last year. The meal is the excuse we use to gather our family and friends around our tables.

For me, Thanksgiving had become, most importantly, about the unscripted, lingering time that extended over days spent alongside my Mother in her kitchen. The closeness I feel to her there, which I have not always felt with her throughout my life, but we have blessedly found over the last five years. The rhythmic side-by-side sifting, chopping and mixing that have become a powerful often wordless, yet intimate, language between us.

“I‘m not going home for Thanksgiving this year. I had a busy fall and just returned from a long trip to Europe, so I’m embracing a quiet week with my nephew. What are you doing?” That’s what I’ve been saying to anyone who asks. I don’t think it’s because we are formally passing the baton of Thanksgiving dinner from my Mother’s kitchen to the next generation’s (and an extended family). Or because I’m trying to come to terms with the more difficult realities that that shift signifies for my parents, and by extension, for me. I’m not entirely sure. It feels a little emotionally messy. But for this year, at least, it is sort of sorted out enough for me.

The Crush Letter
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