Last Thanksgiving I decided to take over the holiday. I came to the conclusion that it would be easier to cook the entire meal then have to run around, going from my wife’s family to my family’s gatherings. There is also the fact that there are like 30 plus people at my in-laws house and honestly I never feel comfortable over there. The main reason I opted to cook, was because last year my parents volunteered at a shelter on Thanksgiving Day. This day has always been my mother’s favorite holiday and when I asked her what she was planning for our family, she didn’t really have an answer. So I checked with wife, making sure it was alright if we had Thanksgiving at our house and she loved the idea. The meal was perfect and in many ways it was less stressful then going to my in-laws. Of course I love cooking and a challenge, so making a Thanksgiving meal was right up my alley. My wife and I decided to “do” Thanksgiving every year and had started looking forward to it this year as October turned to November.
In early November I was dropping off Girl Scout cookies at my grandmother’s. I have never really felt comfortable around her, she has always seemed distant. Don’t get me wrong, she did all the grandma things, I would spend the night, we went to her house on holidays, she always made Christmas cookies (at 91 she is still doing it.) I have never felt a closeness or connection with her; it always seemed she was just going through the motions. She treated my older sisters much the same, going through the motions, without any emotional attachment. When my aunt gave birth to my cousin, sixteen years after I was born, my grandmother showered her with love and affection. It hurt and for a long time I carried a grudge against her (yes I had a granny grudge.)
I am trying to be older and wiser, not old and bitter, so on the day I am dropping off the cookies I ask my grandmother if she has plans for Thanksgiving. Half my thinking in asking is that it is already early November so I figure she already has plans, the other half is asking just to be nice and polite. She said my aunt had mentioned having it at her house, but also added “you know your aunt though,” and said they would likely end up going to my aunt’s husband’s family for thanksgiving dinner. My uncle’s family is nice, not to mention quite the interesting cast of characters, but they are not my grandmother’s family. So I sincerely say, “Well if you want Gram you can come over to our house, I’m making it again this year.”
She says, “Oh you are?” she sounds surprised.
I answer, “Yes, I made it last year, when my parents volunteered and it came out perfect. Amy and I are going to do it every year from now on.”
She says, “That’s right, I remember your mother saying something about that.”
I tell her if she wants to come to let my mother know. Two days later my mother is asking me what dish my grandmother should bring to Thanksgiving. I am glad she is coming. She will be around family and I “do” Thanksgiving mostly in the traditional sense, so I think she will be comfortable and enjoy herself. My mother tells her to bring her special fruit salad, which my mother and sister like, but not really anyone else. Another thing I did this year, I asked my father and sister to make homemade pies, when we were younger they would make pies and just bond. I think they had fun making pies this year; in any case the pies tasted great.
The big day arrives, my wife and I are all hustling and bustling busting our asses. We are peeling potatoes, cleaning the house, getting the bird ready-everything that goes into throwing a Thanksgiving dinner. Everything is falling into place and I am not stressed, I rather enjoy the pressure of having things appear perfect. As it closes in on arrival time, I have about three different things going on and I still have to take a shower. Now I am starting to feel some stress. While my wife was in the shower I prepared some appetizers and started the potatoes. When she gets out, I tell her where everything is in terms of cooking (she doesn’t cook much), show her the appetizers and get my butt in the shower. I shower, shave and clean the bathroom in about fifteen minutes and only my sister has arrived so far. I am relieved; I can now get back on schedule. My wife has made a nice appetizer from crackers, cheese and pepperoni and put all the appetizers out just as my parents and grandmother arrives.
I check the turkey, the temperature has to come up about five degrees, but it looks really good. The turkey gets to the proper temperature, I let it sit for about twenty minutes, and then my father trims it (he loves doing it because he gets to taste the turkey first.) As he cuts, the juices flow from the breast, I try a piece and it is delicious. I mash the potatoes and we set everything out buffet style. Plates are filled, seats are taken, my wife and I are the last to sit and eat. Everyone eats to their hearts content, there are no complaints. When all are done eating, my wife and I thoroughly complimented, everyone saying how great everything was.
Later while we are cleaning up, my grandmother is in the living room, I was in the dining room and she had no idea I was within earshot, I heard her say “John can really cook.” It had a very profound effect upon me. It was less the words, than it was the conviction with which she spoke it. There was something in the tone of her voice that affected me, it was… something, is it approval? Yes, it was definitely approval; I felt for the first time in my adult life that I had my grandmother’s approval. I said nothing, I just let the words soak in, my smile widened and I experienced an odd sense of having accomplished some lifelong goal.
I still don’t completely understand why hearing my grandmother say that meant so much to me, but I know it did, because later that evening after all had gone home, I mentioned it to my wife, oh I don’t know about a dozen times. Some of it I believe was that I exceeded her expectations. She had a great time and despite that fact that she is ninety-one years old I know that she will be at our house next Thanksgiving. For me personally it closed the emotional gap, I feel closer to her than I can ever remember feeling. Maybe it was a Thanksgiving Day miracle.
UPDATE: I texted my father, the following day and told him he should ask my sister in Texas if she wanted to come up for thanksgiving next year. I really don’t like my sister, I mean she is family so it’s like some unwritten law that I have to love her, but I really don’t like her and the feeling is mutual. Again in asking, I was figuring there was no way she would come up for Thanksgiving. Christmas, maybe, Thanksgiving, probably not, right? I go over my parent’s house on Saturday and my mother starts telling me as soon as I enter that my sister does indeed want to come up next year. I ask her, “Did you tell her it was MY idea?” She says yes. If there really are Thanksgiving Day miracles, next year I will be writing about how my sister and I are like best friends and I not only love but I actually like her as well. We’ll see….