The cashier who was ringing up my first round of shopping for Thanksgiving dinner said this while looking at me as though I was carrying the plague. I thanked her, hoping that this fit of sneezes was going to stop at just three—it’s time for a holiday, and I’ve resigned myself to the fate of some cosmic law that says I must be sick for it.
This year, for the first time, I am inheriting the job of cooking dinner for my extended family, which means that I will be cooking in two kitchens that are just about a mile apart. I can’t host dinner because I have too many steps leading to my house for a couple of partially disabled family members, and I have cats that cause even worse sneezing fits for a couple of other relatives. At least I’m a member of Generation X, so no one is complaining about how lazy I am or how my generation is dying off.
In between writing and editing this week, I’m answering calls from my mother who is trying to come up with excuses to avoid having dinner with my in-laws. She’s concerned that her health problems will become a topic of conversation at the table, which is about as likely as aliens landing in the back yard and joining us for dinner. My father-in-law, who is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, will no doubt try to monopolize the dinner conversation, like he usually does. I can already hear my youngest son asking, “Hey pap, did you hear about what Al Franken did?” I will be calling on the patron saint of manners, Emily Post, in the hope that her spirit possesses me (and everyone else at the table) for the evening.
Logistics at Thanksgiving can be a challenge for any family, but ours are compounded by the fact that I have two adult children who work in retail—which means they are being held hostage by their employers for much of the holiday. “I can’t come to dinner this year,” read the text from my eldest son. “I’m working at 5pm, and won’t get off work until morning on Friday.” His older sister will only be stopping by for dessert, since she’s going to dinner with my former in-laws. In case anyone is wondering, the debate about whether or not stores should be open on Thanksgiving at all has been settled in my family. No, we don’t like the idea, and yes, we would love it if the people who don’t have family members who work in retail would just stop shopping that day.
I said that I inherited cooking dinner this year, but that’s not the whole truth. My mother-in-law is insisting on making some of the side dishes. Since that hasn’t been working out as well as it used to in recent years, that means I’ll also be cooking most of the same things, just in case. “Did I put salt in the mashed potatoes?” has been heard in her kitchen during more than a few family dinners, and the end result can be potatoes that even my youngest son and husband won’t touch—a feat when they both have been known to eat up to a pint in one sitting. I understand that my mother-in-law doesn’t want to admit that maybe she is losing her touch in the kitchen, and she definitely doesn’t want to face our family choosing my cooking over hers. It’s an unspoken competition between us, albeit one-sided since I’m truly not trying to outdo her.
For too many people, the real meaning of Thanksgiving has gotten lost over the years, as the holiday becomes little more than a prelude to the Christmas season. It’s an excuse for schools to have a few days off, and an extra day of sales for brick-and-mortar retailers trying to fight against irrelevance in the battle with online merchants. When I was young, it was a semi-solemn day for our family to get together and at least attempt to enjoy each other’s company.
For me, this Thanksgiving is about holding on to time, as I become acutely aware of the fact that our family’s time with my mother and my in-laws is rapidly receding. It’s also about holding on to time with our children, as they move into adulthood and the inevitable responsibilities and changes that come with it. While I hate thinking about it, I know this could be a “last Thanksgiving” for at least a couple of family members, either because of declining health or because they will move away. We’ve already had some losses, since this is our second Thanksgiving without my sister-in-law. It’s hard to keep that in mind while battling a cold and preparing to cook a turkey dinner for ten people, but I am trying.
There is one last shopping trip that I need to do before I’m completely prepared for the holiday—the liquor store. We have sparkling grape juice chilling in my refrigerator, but I still need to get some wine for the adults. Who am I kidding? Most of my family are either teetotalers or beer drinkers. The wine is for me—for medicinal reasons, of course!