When I was a kid, my parents owned a restaurant that was open on Thanksgiving. So my earliest memories of the holiday were sitting in the corner of a very busy restaurant trying to stay out of the way. Once I learned to count I was given a job. Since I guess no restaurant owner wants to be stuck with a whole bunch of drumsticks at the end of the night, they offered an incentive: the waitress who sold the most received some sort of worthwhile prize (I don’t recall what it was). It became my job to keep the tally. I remembered those Thanksgivings as a lot of fun. The restaurant staff was our extended family and it seemed we were all happy to be together even if it was spent serving other families.
I guess because those early Thanksgivings were a departure from what most might consider “traditional” I never felt completely obligated to honor a tradition and therefore that became the one holiday I would often spend with friends rather than family as I got older. In college my childhood friend and I drove to South Carolina for the long weekend one year; another year I went with a dear friend to visit with her family in West Virginia. When I was first married and also launching my career, we would look to spend the long weekend keeping to ourselves decompressing, sometimes away, sometimes just hibernating.
Of course now I long for an opportunity to spend a Thanksgiving around my parents dining room table. I remember succumbing to the big family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2000 – my daughter’s first. We went to a restaurant – all of us – my parents, my aunt and uncle, my in-laws – and that was the last time everyone was together. The years that followed are a bunch of blurs. Time passed too quickly, and there were no real traditions to hold on to.
Holidays since my husband’s death have been hard to say the least, but maybe not having traditions that would further highlight the emptiness is something I am thankful for. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday we had to tackle after he died falling just six weeks later. My daughter and I went to the Macy’s Parade in New York. Something we had never done before. We had brunch in the city and called it a day. We survived. Last year I neglected to make plans. I learned that “winging it” is a recipe for disaster. I stooped to an all-time Thanksgiving low and got dinner at the McDonald’s drive-thru when there was no place open that didn’t require a reservation. This year I vowed things would be different.
Checking in on FaceBook after my Big Mac last year, I saw I wasn’t the only one without plans. So this year I invited those friends to spend Thanksgiving at my house. For the first time in 16 years, I was going to be at a table set for eight! Thanksgiving – the original Thanksgiving – was about friendship and community. And that’s what we represented.
The only problem was my daughter decided to go to a friend’s house. She didn’t want to spend the holiday with my friends who she didn’t know well. I was disappointed to say the least. Here I was trying to create a holiday celebration that would make her feel part of something, and was left feeling like I alienated her in the process
But you know, it all turned out fine. I ran a race first thing in the morning — a fairly new tradition where I attempt to start the day with a calorie deficit. Came home, started cooking and cleaning and then she was off; had Thanksgiving at her friend’s crowded house, filled with lots of other kids her age. I had a nice time with my friends. The meal turned out nice, and I think everyone was glad to be together.
“Black Friday” was a mother-daughter day that involved shopping for some new decorations and Christmas themed scented candles and decorating the house for the next holiday. She was uncharacteristically enthusiastic and helpful. For this, I am most thankful. What took me several days last year, was completed and looked better than ever in one short afternoon. I am thankful for team work, a clean house all decorated for Christmas, and for each and every minute spent with my daughter – on holidays and every simple day in between.
Thanksgiving Table at my house. November 2016.