As Thanksgiving approaches I am re-sharing an excerpt from an essay I wrote on a Thanksgiving of a few years ago.
The Thanksgiving holiday is all about the turkey. Perhaps a football game or two and a little holiday shopping. Well, actually, for some people the shopping is more of a competitive sport than the all-day football games on TV.
But here it is Thanksgiving and my turkey is in another town. No, I am not stranded at the airport due to weather or holiday crowds. Rather, we were going to drive to my Mom’s house for our turkey dinner and instead have found ourselves quarantined at home, 290 miles from our turkey dinner.
To fully understand the situation I must digress a bit. Actually, all the way back to our childhoods. My husband is an only child and I am an only daughter. Neither of us learned to cook with a lot of other people “he
in the kitchen, so we seldom cook meals together. But on Thanksgiving, after 30 plus years of
marriage, my spouse and I have finally reached a truce and choreographed the
holiday meal to an art form. Early in
the day, I get the turkey ready, stuffed, and in the oven.
Early afternoon, my husband begins his elaborate preparations of side dishes that bake for at least an hour, most courtesy of Shaker recipes or Jeff Smith’s Frugal Gourmet: corn pudding, sweet potatoes baked in maple syrup, and baked apples. After he has lovingly nestled his gourmet creations in the oven, I then prepare broccoli casserole (also courtesy of a “Shaker” recipe, though I am jarred by the image of the Shakers driving in horse-drawn carriages to market for Velveeta cheese food and Ritz crackers), potatoes, and gravy.
This year, though, there is no turkey, not a small roasting chicken, or even a Cornish hen in our house. Since we were not planning on being home for Thanksgiving. Instead we had planned on driving on Thanksgiving Day to Mom’s home some four and a half hours away. As a result of those travel plans and Mom’s ill health, for the first time, instead of our usual holiday cooking routine, somewhat reluctantly I had ordered a turkey dinner already fully prepared. This is likely to be Mom’s last Thanksgiving, so I went a bit overboard and ordered an elaborate, take-out feast which Mom’s care-giver has picked up and planned to heat and serve today.
Mom has had little appetite after completing five weeks of radiation for a tumor discovered several months ago. Even though Mom is not likely to eat much of the turkey dinner, I had hoped that she would at least enjoy the sight of a plump, baked bird on her dining room table, and that feast, shared by family, would lift her sprits.
Unfortunately, my husband and I aren’t able to be at that table today. He came down with the old-fashioned stomach flu on Thanksgiving Eve. A result of a virus, no doubt, but one that seems almost unpatriotic in its timing at the start of shopping and gluttony season. I, on the other hand, though not (yet) affected by the stomach bug, instead am suffering from a longer term, gastro-intestinal ailment that appears to be tracking Mom’s decline in health.
Thus, the absence of a turkey at our house this year is not a loss we particularly miss except, perhaps, in the abstract. Furthermore, according to the morning newspaper, most Americans gain five pounds over the holiday season. The risks of over-eating, even in a single meal were laid out like the proverbial buffet: heart attack, stroke, gall stone attacks, not to mention old-fashioned heartburn and gastric distress. We will count ourselves lucky to be sidestepping these risks as, we pick sedately at scrambled eggs, no toast for me on the chance my tummy upset is gluten sensitivity activated by stress.
As it turned out that was my Mom’s last Thanksgiving. She never rebounded after the radiation, but instead lingered for many months as her life spirit and her strength receded. My brother and I spent much of that time with her. Only belatedly did we think to play for her some of the music she had so enjoyed. Nevertheless, I like to think that even in her coma-like state she heard and enjoyed some of the old Nat King Cole songs she had played on the piano in her younger days.
This year because of schedules no immediate relatives are coming for the holiday, nor are we making the trip. Instead, we are spending Thanksgiving with our older son’s in-laws, a very generous and welcoming crowd. We will bring gluten-free corn pudding as well as one of the other “Frugal Gourmet” vegetables.
During my Mother’s final months I developed celiac, a disease associated with a severe reaction to wheat and gluten. Celiac occurs as a result of a genetic predisposition, and can be activated by physical or mental stress. Luckily, our son’s in-laws assure me they are happy to serve a gluten- free turkey dinner.
It has taken me awhile to realize Thanksgiving is not at all about the turkey. Or even the football and shopping. Rather, it’s about family, however you might define them, and good friends. And it’s for giving thanks for them, however far flung or distant they might now be.