Thanksgiving. Everyone’s favorite day to consume turkey (or Tofurkey, if you’re my friend Kara). At my local retailers, I don’t see a lot of love for Thanksgiving. Most of them have already decorated for Christmas. Thanksgiving has morphed into just one element of this stew of magic and happiness that we call “The Holidays:” Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Christmas is the real star of the show. The presents! The tree! The endless hours of Christmas music! I haven’t liked Christmas since my mother died, although I do my best to get into it for my kids. After being in retail management for years and watching the extraordinarily bad way that people behave during the holidays, I don’t really like opening gifts anymore. But the rest of my family loves Christmas, so I smile and I decorate accordingly.
And then, New Year’s Day. I knew a guy who told me once that New Year’s Day was his favorite day of the year to get drunk. I guess getting drunk on New Year’s Eve was too pedestrian. Anyway, I find that January is filled with all of the intentions that the human race can muster. We make resolutions, and we break them by the end of the month, resolving to take them up again for Lent. Or, we heavily modify them. “I was going to lose fifty pounds? I meant five pounds. Yeah. And I’ve gained those back already.”
For me, however, Thanksgiving has always been the favorite. At Thanksgiving, you don’t owe anyone anything except maybe a nice plate of sweet potato casserole. You don’t have to shop for a gift that someone will probably just return or relegate to the basement. Or, you don’t have to royally screw up your gift giving, like I did the year that I gave four jars of Vermont maple syrup to David’s diabetic grandfather. At Thanksgiving, you bring your best dish or your bottle of wine, and you sit together and celebrate without any expectations.
I remember Thanksgivings with my mother’s family, surrounded by the warmth of laughter and easy conversation. My mother’s turkey was always too dry, and my aunt always brought this strange pasta salad that only she consumed. The cranberry sauce came from a can, so it kind of looked like a gelatinous glob of donated bone marrow. Nevertheless, as the years go by, I remember less about the gastronomy and more about the joy.
Since we’ve come to New England, we usually spend Thanksgiving alone. The day is just another day for us, albeit with a larger meal than usual. We make telephone calls to our relatives in Arkansas that are getting shorter and shorter every year. I don’t mind spending Christmas alone with my family, but, for some reason, I hate spending Thanksgiving alone in Connecticut. Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when I wish I could turn back the clock and recapture the family gatherings of my childhood. I never had the sense to feel grateful for what I had when I had it. Now, time, geography and misunderstandings have loosened a lot of family bonds. I guess Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again.
This year, we’re trying something different. We booked a room at our favorite Vermont inn, the West Mountain Inn, near Manchester. I love the idea of spending Thanksgiving on the banks of the Battenkill River and in the shadow of Stratton Mountain. We will eat Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room with the other families who have also booked for the holiday. The innkeeper was kind enough to email me and let me know that they had pasta and chicken fingers for my children, who have no appreciation for Thanksgiving cuisine. All of this, for the price of one family member’s plane ticket to Arkansas.
I look down through time and imagine this Thanksgiving trip becoming a new family tradition. I see Sam and Owen coming from college and meeting us in the inn at Thanksgiving. Further down the road, I see them bringing their spouses and children to the inn. Maybe they’ll start eating turkey and stuffing by then, and save the chicken fingers for their own children. I’ll take my grandchildren out to feed the alpacas that the inn’s owner keeps in a field near the main building. Thanksgiving will become special again, starting now.
If I am grateful for anything this year, I’m grateful for do-overs. I’ve made a lot of changes this year, and those changes feel pretty good.
I’m hoping an annual trip to the inn is a change that will last a lifetime.