An Untraditional Thanksgiving

Many people think of Jan. 1 as the time to set resolutions to be a person completely different than the person they actually are. To exercise. To organize. To give up cherished vices.

For me, though, it’s long been Nov. 1 that has brought about that impulse. As soon as we hit the holiday season, I start wanting to become the kind of person who loves entertaining. Who both has and uses a gravy boat. Who knows more about table settings than that you can remember what side to put the silverware on because “fork” and “left” both have four letters and “knife,” “spoon,” and “right” all have five letters.

The truth is, I am not that person at all. Most days, we eat off of chipped plates we bought 11 years ago at Target and wipe our mouths with paper towels from Costco. We probably have fancy serving pieces somewhere, but I don’t know where to find them. And entertaining requires cleaning the house much more extensively than the basic steps we take to keep squalor at bay and, typically, wearing clothes that aren’t pajamas.

Still, though, every November sets me to Googling: “best pie crust recipe,” “homemade gravy,” “exciting new Thanksgiving salad ideas,” “cute tablescape,” “festive place cards.” I read listicles like, “8 Interesting Side Dishes You Can Bring to a Thanksgiving Dinner to Make Sure Everyone Loves You” and “25 Fun Ways to Get Kids Involved in Thanksgiving Meal Prep” and “Holiday Season Memories to Last a Lifetime.”

By the time the actual week of Thanksgiving rolls around, I’ve inevitably decided that I’m going to make the same stuff I make every year, that my kids need to just leave me alone to cook and not try to help, and that our holiday season memories will mostly be of me frazzled because everything needs to go into the oven all at once and at different temperatures.

The past several Thanksgivings, though, have looked markedly different than the ones that came before.

The first pandemic Thanksgiving, I think we did a porch visit with a few family members, ate a rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes, and baked a pie. I’m not sure we even set the table. I don’t think we did. What would have been the point?

Last year, I cooked an elaborate, labor-intensive feast, including a multi-step gravy that took a full two days, because what I was actually trying to do was distract myself from grief over losing my mom suddenly in May. The gravy was indeed delicious, but it turns out that it takes more than slow-roasting turkey necks and aromatics for hours to overcome a shocking, devastating loss.

And this year? This year I’m now dealing with my father’s rapid decline into end-stage dementia, and so instead of Googling “inventive ways to cook sweet potatoes,” I’m Googling “how to talk to parent who thinks you’re their spouse instead of their child.”

I’m sure I’ll get it together and at least bake a pie or two, but this is not going to be a year of ambitious meal-planning.

It used to be that Thanksgiving inspired me to try to be a better/different version of myself.

Since 2019, I am no longer the same person; that’s undeniably true, for better and worse. The 2022 version of me is worn down by grief both sudden and sustained – but also wiser, taking nothing for granted. The 2022 version of me doesn’t care about making place cards with thumbprint turkeys I saw on Pinterest; the 2022 version of me is just trying to make it through the day and hug my kids and my husband and my dog as tightly and as often as possible.

This isn’t a “better version” of me, but it’s who I am becoming. I may not be able to find a gravy boat, but I’m finding out just how strong I am.

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