Thanksgiving has historically been Nate’s and my holiday ever since we got married on that weekend, 41 years ago. As holidays go, it’s a pretty good deal for the hostess with one big spread, no gifts and minimal entertainment. Guests don’t expect fancy French sauces or first-time recipes on Thanksgiving. Instead everyone wants the menu to be “just like always,” and so the cook can leave her cook books shelved.
Last year’s Thanksgiving arrived two weeks after Nate’s death, and we were all numb. Most of the family was still in town, though, so we went ahead with the dinner at our Michigan cottage, feeding 28 guests. I fought tears the entire time and could only eat a small salad.
This year my sister Mary offered to host the dinner, since her family would number 18 and ours only four. I felt like I had the day off, since my Thanksgiving prep was only two pies and a veggie platter. So at breakfast we lingered over our oatmeal and talked about memorable Thanksgivings of the past.
There was the year we moved a week before the holiday and hadn’t unpacked our big roasting pan when it came time to cook the 25-pound turkey. Because disposable aluminum pans weren’t around that long ago, we roasted it in a 1”-deep jelly roll pan with a watchful “basting barista” pulling off the juices just ahead of spill-overs.
We also remembered a Thanksgiving morning when we were greeted with 14” of snow, but unploughed roads didn’t keep a single guest away. Then there was the year we hosted several international students but couldn’t come up with red sauce hot enough to make their Thanksgiving fare palatable.
Two years ago I overslept and didn’t get the bird into the oven soon enough. When carving time came, the turkey choice was neither light meat nor dark but pink, a major dilemma for poultry. We carved away the outer edges and nuked the rest in microwaveable chunks, not a recommended technique.
While finishing our oatmeal, we all got serious remembering two consecutive Thanksgivings that could have turned tragic. In the first, Mary’s van was t-boned at high speed on her side of the car. An impact one foot farther back would have killed her. As it was, the front of her vehicle was sheared off, but she escaped with only a sore shoulder.
The next year another accident frightened the four youngest girls as all of us caravanned in five cars to a movie on Thanksgiving night. A lake-effect snowstorm had blown out of nowhere, making the roads extremely slippery. The girls’ Durango fishtailed out of control, spinning around and flying off the expressway. They smashed into a short piece of guard rail that just “happened” to be in the right spot, which prevented them from careening into oncoming traffic. Although the Durango was in bad shape, the girls suffered only a few head-bumps.
This morning as wild rains pounded the windows, we cleared our dishes and recognized how many reasons we had to be thankful. Every family has its unique holiday stories of mistakes, flukes and near-misses, but the trick is to pluck out every opportunity to lavish gratitude on the Lord.
After all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is for?
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” (Psalm 106:21)