November 23, 2006
It’s 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time where I sit. At my house the Thanksgiving dinner has been consumed, the leftovers stored, the carcass taken to the edge of the meadow for the crows (although it was the neighbors’ cat that visited first), and all the dishes and utensils washed and put away. I’ve had my nap (Lynn, who lives on college student time, is still curled up in hers), and I’m ready to start my post-holiday activities while many of my friends are just sitting down to their own feast.
When I married Ron I joined an extended Italian family whose holiday table had all the extra leaves installed and all the extra chairs pulled up, but where there was always room for one more. We gathered late in the afternoon, had dinner as darkness fell, and lingered on into the evening. The organizing forces were Ron’s parents and his mother’s sister and brother, and through the first dozen years Ron and I were married I don’t think I had any obligation beyond showing up and enjoying myself. With so many in attendance the event could be noisy and wearing for an introvert like me, but there was a lot of love and joy.
By 1998, though, only Ron’s mother was left of the older generation and Ron’s other children had established themselves in distant climes. We began having Thanksgiving dinner at our house, just the four of us. Ron’s church choir sang at a 9:00 am Mass, and he’d bring his mother back with him. Our dinner became a noontime event, and even though this means even a modest-size turkey has to be in the oven before 8:30, this pattern suits us, even now that it’s just the three of us.
Ron likes a traditional feast with “all the trimmings.” In addition to the turkey, we have to have mashed potatoes, plain bread stuffing (last year I mentioned an interesting sausage-and-dried-cherries concoction I saw in a Martha Stewart magazine but was forbidden to even think about it seriously), gravy, green beans with olive oil and rosemary served cold, jellied cranberry sauce that slides out of the can, and pumpkin pie for dessert. (Here, “traditional” means made with Libby’s canned pumpkin puree. No one has to attack the innards of an actual pumpkin with a scoop and a strainer.)
I’ve never produced the kind of turkey you see in a Norman Rockwell painting, the bird brought to the table all golden on a bed of parsley with stuffing arranged artfully as if spilling from a cornucopia. Ron carves in the pan and lays the meat on the platter pictured above, a wedding gift in 1975 from a friend on my first husband’s side of the guest list. I really don’t know how I came to retain this item. We’d been married only seven years when we divorced and I think I handled Thanksgiving dinner maybe three times. The platter has no monetary value, and since it held little sentimental value for either of us it was probably overlooked in the final division of property.
Over the years, however, my attachment to it has grown. It is so big that it has to be stored under the china closet rather than in it, and washing it becomes an event, since it doesn’t fit in the dishwasher or the sink. It is definitely ugly, an Italian artist’s idea of what Americans might want in a hand-painted Thanksgiving scene — a bird with feathers that look more like a costume Indian’s headdress and fir trees in the background. The ugliness is its most endearing attribute.
I had a hard month emotionally leading up to this day. A lot of loss, a lot of remembering, a lot of examining what my friends and my family mean to me. Tonight I give thanks for the incredible abundance of joy and love that is mine, and I am ready to step into a holiday season with all the trimmings.
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