Early Thanksgivings – NO PRESSURE
Growing up, Thanksgiving and the holidays in general were not the best experience for me and I entered my adult years lacking a treasure trove of memories to draw on so that I could make them special for my own little family. My kids would bring home from school little paper turkeys they had traced from their tiny hands and paper bag Pilgrim puppets that, inevitably, had either lost a glued-on eye or been smashed when they shoved them in their backpack. To me, every bent and crinkled offering was a priceless work of art that I would proudly display around the house. I lovingly hand-cut several construction paper turkey feathers for each of us to write what we were thankful for on and proudly arranged them on the huge paper turkey body I had constructed and taped on the front door. When Thanksgiving Day crept closer and it was time to make plans for the traditional meal, I never had to put much thought into it – until fate caught up with me…
PANIC SETS IN
It wasn’t too much pressure when the kids were younger because we lived in a larger city in the Los Angeles suburbs and would usually be invited to someone else’s house where we could just bring a prepackaged side dish or two and call it a day. This comfortable annual fallback came to a halt when, in the kids’ early elementary years, we moved to a small desert community where the five of us were on our own for the holidays. Suddenly, my children and husband looked to me to orchestrate our little Felty family Thanksgiving meal. Oh, they would help, they assured me, but I was the true project manager for the undertaking. Having never really had a mother or another woman to teach me to cook or share recipes with me in my formative years, I was starting with a blank slate. Panic set in. Annual Thanksgiving meal traditions were foreign to me and, up to this point, our family had just been included in the rituals of whoever’s house we were eating at that year.
“Maybe Andy could start dropping hints at work that we are all alone for Thanksgiving and they will invite us over,” I plotted. “Hey,” I thought, “doesn’t the local grocery store sell a whole Thanksgiving meal already cooked that we just pick up and bring home to eat?” I was all ready to put “Plan B” into motion when guilt set in as I thought about how every other mother in the world cooks Thanksgiving dinner for their family. (Maybe not every mother but I have a very active imagination.) No, I resolved, my little brood looked to me to set the tone for our family Thanksgiving traditions in years to come. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be carrying on the legacy of my performance on this holiday. Ok, not exactly, but that’s how I was imagining it in my mind.
LET’S DO THIS!
Bravely, I looked up recipes of traditional food served on Thanksgiving. I agonized over how big of a turkey one buys for a family of five. Determined to make it special, I decided I would make the rolls from scratch instead of store-bought ones. I was going to do this meal right. Armed with my carefully-written notes on the counter and my husband as my assistant chef, we set out early on Thanksgiving morning to prepare our feast. Bread was set to rise and cranberry sauce was in the refrigerator to chill. My husband helped me prepare the turkey, stick the popper in to tell us when it was done (using a meat thermometer wasn’t part of my culinary repertoire at this point) and slid the bird into the turkey bag. It was then that I discovered that I did not even have a pan large enough to put the turkey in. Praying that a store was open on Thanksgiving day, off went my assistant to the grocery store to hunt for a disposable pan.
TRADITIONS ARE BORN
I don’t remember how the meal turned out that Thanksgiving, or the year after that, but, somewhere along the way, we began to form our own little annual Felty traditions. We decided that we would eat our Thanksgiving meal on our Christmas plates and use them for all meals from that point on until Christmas. (Who wants to dig the plates out of the garage, wash them and use them on only one day of the year anyhow?) Before saying grace and plowing into the feast, we began the tradition of giving each of us a small glass of cold apple cider and everyone taking turns saying what they are thankful for. After everyone had shared something and my husband led us in prayer, we drank our toast and launched things off with, “Can you pass the potatoes?”
MAKING PEACE WITH THANKSGIVING
It has been many Thanksgivings since then and I rarely forget the disposable turkey pan now (beats washing a huge pan every year!) and I buy rolls instead of making them myself because I want to spend more time with the family than slaving in the kitchen. Even though I am now the proud owner of a meat thermometer, I still prefer the little plastic poppers in the turkey. (There is a childlike anticipation in checking in to see if that little red dot has popped up.) There were one or two Thanksgivings we spent at Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California as our middle child wrestled with leukemia and needed to be admitted. As every mother experiences, and I can finally admit that, I have had my share of lumpy gravy and pies I forgot to put sugar in. I still cringe about the year we invited an elderly gentleman over because his wife had to work and I almost killed him (close enough) with a turkey bone he retrieved out of his first bite of meat. I had made my peace with Thanksgiving and, as the kids grew older, we welcomed all their teenage friends to the table and added plates as adult friends and neighbors dropped in. As always, we included them in our “thankful toast” and I found myself buying more bottles of apple cider every year.
ADDING TO MY HOLIDAY “TREASURE TROVE”
My little brood is all grown now. The little paper turkeys are carefully preserved in plastic page protectors in my “mom’s memories” binder and I have my own holiday recipes lovingly written on recipe cards to share with my daughter someday. When my boys come home with their new families, they banter with their sister who still lives at home and grab samples of food when I’m not looking. My daughter has taken over the honor of pouring the apple cider in the glasses now and it takes a bit longer to say what we are thankful for at the table now that we have a growing family. I look around the table with unbridled love for all these faces that add to the memories I now have of Thanksgiving. Memories I never had before starting my own family. Each year is a precious gem I add to my own “treasure trove” of memories I will pass down to my little Felty tribe.
Happy Thanksgiving! (It’s time to go check the turkey popper! Lol!)