Reflecting on Giving Thanks

It’s 2 am, I’ve been awake (again) and getting stuff ready for the last 3 hours. Watched 2 episodes of Numb3rs, tore apart 5 loaves of bread, cut up 3 sweet potatoes and 3 apples, and one bunch of celery, got one dish in the oven cooking for tomorrow. Scratch that, for today. Planned menu: Shepherd’s Pie, Savory Apple-Sweet Potato Bake, Green Beans Almondine, Mixed Vegetables in Cheese Sauce, Gran’s dressing, Martinelli’s Apple Cider, and Pumpkin Pie for dessert. (I’ll put some recipes on the site somewhere) Planned guests: me and Alena. Kaitie may show up, not going to count on it. If she does, we’ll have Cranberry Surprise – her recipe.

While I’m getting stuff prepped I’m thinking back on all the years past, all the traditions we grew up with, and all the changes. Last year was the first Thanksgiving without Gran. The third without Mom. My first that I spent completely solo. Alena was still in foster care with non-family, and not sure where Kaitie was then. I couldn’t get down to see the family, though I wanted to. But I did okay. I had a full meal, including more Shepherd’s pie. Wasn’t a sad day, just a very reflective day. Called everyone, sent them a picture message showing my dinner. It was quiet. And that was okay.

Not how it was as I was growing up though. Now mind you, we don’t have what I’d call a LARGE family, but it was big enough. Gran had 3 kids, all 3 kids lived close, but it was usually Auntie with her 5 kids and my mom that would all gather together with Gran. Then there was Auntie’s husband and my dad. So usually there were 11 of us sharing dinner. We traded off houses: one year Turkey day was at our house, Christmas at Auntie’s, next year we swapped. The kids ranged from 21 to about 6 (sorry, totally forgetting everyone’s ages – not even sure how old I am without stopping to think).

The oldest, he got out of helping by showing up in time to eat, then leaving. The two littlest, well, they were too little. So that left us 3 girls to do the grunt work. It was the rule, after dinner the kids cleaned up. And of course helped prep. Always had turkey, usually two. Gran baked sweet potatoes and the dressing. Mom made giblet gravy (ick), sometimes there was some other icky dressing that required livers and stuff. Always at least two kinds of vegetables for the picky eaters. Sometimes I got lucky and we’d have Asparagus or Brussel Sprouts with Hollandaise. No, not the crap you get in the restaurants. This was thick, rich, and bursting with lemony goodness. I remember dipping Brussel Sprouts in it and sucking off the sauce so I could dip it again. Maybe that’s where the baby gets it.

Now I do have to explain about the dressing. It’s not quite the stuffing most people think of, although yes, we stuck our hands up that turkey’s butt and filled it full. Gran’s dressing was made in garbage bags because we needed a LOT of it. Yes, the clean, non-scented ones (lucky me I had some small ones available that were non-scented, silly me). It required like 12 loaves of bread, a whole lot of olives, butter, eggs, and some other stuff. We’d have people sitting there, tearing bread into small pieces and throwing it in the bags, while others went to work on chopping and melting stuff. Some would go in loaf pans to be baked like bread, the rest was for the bird. You have not lived until  you slice up dressing and fry it up the next day, to go with the fried egg that gets tossed on it. I cheat a bit now, I don’t bake it, I just make patties and throw it in the microwave to cook it just enough in the center, then fry them. Yum. Seriously,YUM!

Things changed in later years, kids moved on, had families of their own. Divorce separated parts of the family, my dads family came. We often had small separate meals several times over, but always found time to come together somewhere. I can’t remember having a Thanksgiving without Gran, no matter what else happened. Even as she got older, and couldn’t do as much, she still cooked. And she sat down to eat after everyone else was halfway done. Cleaning up, making sure everyone’s plates were full. Her joy to be able to still cook for everyone.

Four years ago was my mom’s last Thanksgiving with us. She was in the hospital when I got down that year, and although I was there for the long weekend, she never came home. I am thankful for that time with her. She was coherent for parts of it, enough for me to talk to her, tell her I love her. Never did say how thankful I was for all that she put up with and all that she did, but I like to think she knows. Last year Gran didn’t quite make it to Thanksgiving. She spent the beginning of November waiting for the final moments as her kidneys failed. I didn’t get to go see her, but I’d been able to take time off and rent a car to get down to see her during her previous bout in the hospital.

This year, I have Alena. She is here, with me, about to enjoy her first taste of some of these things. I don’t make the sweet potatoes like gran did, but we will have dressing. And yes gran, I’m making sure we have a variety of vegetables. No one will leave the table hungry. Someday I’ll tell her of the traditions, have her help me make the dressing. I look forward to that.

So, I am thankful. Thankful that I have so many memories, wonderful, treasured memories of Thanksgiving. Thankful that the precious girl is here to share this day with me. Hopeful that Kaitie will be her, thankful that I have food for the day. I wish sometimes that I had more, the ability to give more to others, or to go down and see the family. But then I remember, I have so much to be thankful for. Amidst the struggles and the heartache of the past year, I have gained much.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, wherever you are. To my family, to my friends new and old, to those my path will someday cross, to strangers I will never meet. May your meal be blessed with peace and good food. May your stomachs be full. May loved ones be present, may the memories be good. May your tomorrows be plentiful and full of joy. May you be given an abundance of things to be thankful for.

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