I have been collecting Thanksgiving and Holiday Season mini-tales--what the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday was like for friends and acquaintances. Did the whole family--the grown kids and their spouses or friends, and their families--all come together under one roof to feast at one table? Was it still their table or had the mantle passed to the younger generation or to someone else? Were new traditions started or did old ones prevail?
Eva has solved the problem of competing with her daughters-in-law's parents for Thanksgiving dinner with a simple expedient: She has both sons and their families over for Thanksgiving on Saturday. She does the turkey; one son brings the pies; the other, the vegetables. It all works well, except when it doesn't: One year the pies were tied up in stop-and-go traffic on the Beltway. That son and family were two hours late. Meanwhile. the vegetable-bearing son's daughter had a volleyball tournament that evening and had to eat and run--before her uncle got there. That's the unaccountable factor when a holiday is celebrated at a day and time convenient to the family even as the rest of the world goes about its business. But the holiday dinner also goes down in the books as part of family lore. Remember the year when....
Last year, when their son was recovering from an orthopedic problem, Ellen and Joe rose early and drove four hours on Thanksgiving morning to their son's house. He planned a minimalist feast--Ellen and Joe were told not to bring anything. This year, Thanksgiving switched back to Ellen and Joe's house. It was not minimalist, with 19 people--sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunt, uncle, cousins--crowded around a very full table and then around the TV screen: the home football team was playing a big game. This year's Thanksgiving went down as a really good one, even though Elaine felt a disjointedness that many of us who cook the meal feel--our families sniff down in minutes what it took hours and hours to prepare.
I know whereof she speaks. Paterfamilias and I flew to our son's house on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving--the better to help my daughter in law with preparations on Wednesday. This was the fourth year that the mantle of Thanksgiving dinner has been passed to my DIL. Given that both of us were feeling sub-par--my hip; her back--she and I had decided on a theme for this year's feast: Keep it Simple. If there was a short cut to take, we would take it. So we bought a pre-brined turkey [major shortcut; worked out really well. Let's hear it for Trader Joe] and splatchcocked it [thank you Mark Bittman] so that it cooked in an hour on Thursday afternoon--no oven-sharing schedule needed. We pre-baked the stuffing [aka dressing]; baked two kinds of potatoes and left whipping them till the next day.
We bought the Tofurky and left that to Alpha Daughter--she would be arriving on Thursday--to prepare for her all-vegetarian family.
We bakery-bought the pumpkin and apple pies but couldn't help ourselves: we baked a simple upside down pear cake and brownies from a mix. And, oh yes, we had to make fresh cranberry muffins--what's Thanksgiving without them? We prepped the vegetables; cooked the cranberry sauce [not worth the short cut of canned.] Set the table, Arranged the flowers. Yes, we were keeping it simple but it took almost all day for two cooks and several other small and large pairs of hands to whip things into readiness--and then several hours on Thursday to close the deal.
And yes, like Ellen and Joe's family, it took little time for 11 of us to down the turkey [or tofurkey] and the trimmings and take up our positions for the second half of the football game. So unfolds another Thanksgiving story for family lore.
Next year will be a new page. Alpha Daughter and family will be spending another sabbatical year in Berlin. Uber Son is also taking a sabbatical and may head for New Zealand or London with his family. Whither they goest, so goes our Thanksgiving.