One of the lessons I have learned in life is that, if I’m brave enough or mature enough to let go of my preconceived notions, I can experience something awesome. Much to my surprise, I learned this lesson from a traditional holiday. You know…tradition! To me, tradition means doing the same things the same way every year. But, I found through an “oddball” thanksgiving that, if I was willing to try something new, we can have an amazing holiday and by “we” I mean everyone who attends.
My earliest Thanksgiving memories are of a hot, steamy kitchen filled with good smells. I remember my mom and grandma bustling around my grandma’s tiny kitchen, one sucking in their tummy as the other carefully balanced a hot pan of food and scooted by to get to the table. Then, the other one would have to lift a plate of cold veggies high overhead as they sucked in to crowd through a small space to get to the sink. They were like a well-oiled machine, opening cans, peeling potatoes, slathering cream cheese into celery, and arranging enticing foods so that they would be easily grabbed by the onslaught of at least 11 people when the call finally came to “come and get it.” By the time the dinner was over, and all the dishes cleaned up, my mom and grandma had worked for almost eight hours without a break and the entire family sang their praises for a job well done.
I guess it should not have come as a surprise to me when my mom and grandmother decided they no longer wanted to cook and clean for the “army” on the holiday. After all, as an 8-year-old, I swaggered out to the couch, watched my dad and grandpa enjoying the couches and the football game on TV and piped up with “How come you two don’t have to cook and clean on Thanksgiving? The rest of us do.” Well, the men explained that they worked the rest of the year so they didn’t have to work on holidays. However, my incisive child’s mind wasn’t buying it. “Well, wait just a minute!” I said, crossing my arms across my chest and trying to look grown up. “Mom works every day too and I go to school every day. Why do you get a holiday and we don’t?” Perhaps it was being a child of the 60s and 70s, but I saw the great inequity of the men taking it easy on the holidays because they worked and my mom working even harder on the holidays because she was a woman. So, as I say, I suppose I should have known the day was coming when our family dinners at home would be a thing of a past.
I must have been about 18 when the family stopped having home cook meals. My grandparents and parents started going out to eat. I was at school and my older siblings spent the holidays with their spouses’ families. None of us wanted to go out to eat on a traditional holiday. We were rather spoiled by the home-cooked meals the older generation had provided and wanted to keep that up. But, none of us had residence big enough to host it, so grandma was always stuck with most of the work. She just couldn’t sit still and watch us work, either, so the younger generation couldn’t host the dinner at grandma’s.
The day came where I was home from school and my mom announced that they would all be going out to dinner for Thanksgiving. I was secretly crushed. I hated the thought of commercial food being the highlight of the day while we all sat in a room with 50 to 100 strangers. I agreed to go with the family, but I certainly was disappointed by the end of an era. No more traditional family dinners for us. Time had marched on, mom and grandma were getting older, and had no interest in even attending someone else’s dinner. They had gone out without the kids for a few years already and they loved being served food made by someone else and then having the mess cleaned up by someone else.
The day came and we all met in the foyer of the restaurant. Grandpa and dad were relaxed as usual, but they didn’t have the TV to keep them occupied so they actually talked to the rest of the family! Mom and grandma were dressed up and gorgeous! They each looked so relaxed and happy that I had to admit a restaurant may be the way to go if we wanted all of the family members to have a holiday. Still, no one cooks like them and I wasn’t looking forward to the meal.
Once again, I was not just happy with the commercial Thanksgiving, I was enchanted! The restaurant we went to offered ham or turkey as your main entrée, but you could have both for a small fee. The food was delicious and there was enough to fill us up, but not enough so that we all felt overstuffed after the meal. That meant that we could all stay awake and talk after eating, an event which probably had never happened. One or the other oldster had always fallen asleep after the hustle and bustle of the meal and clean up. Not this year! Everyone was totally engaged in conversation and interaction with the family group. When we each finished eating, someone would whisk away our dirty dishes and either replace them with something else, or just clean the area and retire to the back. When everyone had finished their meal, dessert was served. Honestly, I don’t think in our traditional, at-home thanksgiving we had ever all eaten dessert at the same time. It was really very nice progressing through the meal at the same rate, everyone being treated as if they were just as important as everyone else. The women weren’t the servants while the men sat with their feet up being served. It was awesome.
Then, something really exciting happened. At our traditional Thanksgiving dinners, the day usually ended with the women and girl children doing the dishes and putting away all of the platters and crystal bowls that hadn’t seen the light of day since the year before. We would usually finish the clean-up around 6 p.m. and would be ready to go home, exhausted from cooking and cleaning all day. But, this day, the day of the nontraditional meal, we all went to grandma’s house and played cards! No one was too tired to have fun after our little holiday jaunt so we ended the day with more family time.
After that day, I’ve always remembered our traditional, home-cooked, exhausting meals with fondness, and I still have them for my family now that I have kids and grandkids, when we can all get together. There’s something to be said for tradition and slaving in the kitchen for those you love can be fun and rewarding. But, I’m so glad that I agreed to share my parents’ and grandparents’ new tradition too. Having someone else cook and clean while the women enjoy a day of leisure has a lot to be said for it. You still get the delicious food and family fun, just not the exhaustion, and you can’t beat the precious family time you spend really focusing on those who are important to you.