Planning Thanksgiving
2005-11-02 - 4:05 p.m.

Thanksgiving when I was little was truly a celebration of family and a giving of thanks. My grandparents had three married children and nine grandchildren, and Thanksgiving day would invariably find all 15 of us around the dinner table (well, tables) together. Time passed, people married, divorced, and then married again, more kids were born, and the crowd changed, but the size just blossomed. I think we topped out at 35 family members squashed into the dining room, spilling over to the living room, sharing a meal. The highlight of the meal was always my grandfather looking around the room, smiling at my grandmother. "I'm responsible for all this," he would exclaim, gesturing to the many faces looking back at him. "Lucky me."

Lucky us, too.

More time passed, and the crowd dwindled. The last year my grandfather was alive, the table held just he and my grandmother, my mom, and me. The next year, David came to Beverly, too, aware that it would probably be my grandmother's last Thanksgiving. It was truly the end of an era, our last turkey at Parramatta Road, and although we tried our hardest to be festive, the day was tinged with palpable sadness.

The next year, Aunt Ruthann and Uncle Bob invited us to share their table. Mom, David, and I ate brined turkey for the first time and enjoyed the day, even if it didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving. Two months later, David was dead, along with my mother's desire to celebrate much of anything.

The first Thanksgiving after Kirk and I got married, we packed up both families and trucked north to New Hampshire, renting a condo and cooking dinner there. It was better, but still didn't quite feel right. The next year brought Will, who was less than a month old when the turkey came out of the oven, and dinner was at Betsy's. Again...that holiday feeling eluded me.

Last year, in an effort to reclaim the right sense of the day, I made dinner here. Kirk's parents, sister, and soon-to-be brother-in-law joined the four of us at our house. The entire month leading up to the day was full of stress. My mom and I fought to the point of many tears about whether or not she was going to be there. She couldn't make me understand why it felt uncomfortable to her and I certainly couldn't make her understand why her bailing out made me feel so rootless and alone. It wasn't the happiest of days.

And now, November has reared it's holiday-filled head once again, and the Thanksgiving uncomfortability has shaken off hibernation.

Kirk informed me the other night that his parents won't be in town this year. His sister and her husband have rented an apartment in NYC for both sets of parents as a thank you for the wedding, and are taking them out to eat.

I alternate between feeling relieved--this means not having to keep up the pretense of enjoying the day--and feeling deflated--this just might be the last step in turning Thanksgiving from a holiday I loved into just a random Thursday everyone has off from work.

I'm sad, because I want Will to have what I had. I want him to look forward to Thanksgiving all year. I want him to have fun traditions and hunt for the "turkey" in the backyard with his daddy and his cousins the way my little cousins used to. I want him to watch his grandmother sneak a piece of squash pie for Thanksgiving breakfast, leaving the pie plate slightly lighter for dessert. I want him to have the chance to feel like a part of a much bigger family unit, to feel the love of the people around him surround him and fill the room, the way my grandmother's living room was filled. I want him to love Thanksgiving.

But he can't learn to do that if it's just another Thursday, and I don't know how to get myself back to a place where I feel like it's something else.

This year, for the first time since Will was born, we have resurrected the Friend Thanksgiving tradition. While C&E and I still lived in the JP apartment, we invited everyone over the Sunday before Thanksgiving for Friend Thanksgiving. We cooked the turkey. Everyone else brought the "fixings." It quickly turned into one of my favorite days of the year. I have wonderful memories of these gatherings, full of my *chosen* family, the people I count as my friends. The last two years I've let myself be talked out of hosting this particular party. THis year, especially in light of the missing family on the actual holiday, I refused to be deterred.

Maybe this is my way of remembering what's important.

I hope you all have good Thanksgiving plans.


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