Thanksgiving is Looking Different This Year

My brother Mike and I at Thanksgiving 2010. A lot has changed since then.

Thanksgiving is THIS WEEK. I made a mad dash to the J.C. Market yesterday for Thanksgiving cooking needs because I had just realized how close the holiday was. Now my turkey is in the refrigerator starting its long defrost. Bread pieces for stuffing wait on the counter. I’ve got potatoes, celery, apples, a bottle of chardonnay . . . my friend is bringing a pumpkin cake, cranberry sauce, corn casserole . . . it sounds like a regular Thanksgiving. But it won’t be.

Pat and I, both widows, are doing the day together. Our families are far away. Her son’s family is in Connecticut. Her daughter and son-in-law in California have COVID-19. My family is in California, too. In past years, I would drive to San Jose, spend a couple days with my father, then drive him to my brother’s place in Cathey’s Valley near Yosemite. That big house would fill with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Babies, toddlers and older kids would be running around, along with several dogs. Football on TV. Cheese and crackers on the counter. Big tables laden with turkey, stuffing, ham, two kinds of potatoes, and more side dishes than I can name, plus three kinds of desserts. “Pass the gravy,” we’d hear. “Oh, this is so good.” “How’s it going up in Oregon?”

We would remember those who had passed on, drink a toast to them, hope they were having a good time in heaven.

After dinner, we’d stretch out in the living room, talk, watch TV, maybe go for a walk or a scenic drive. Later, there’d be turkey sandwiches and leftovers packed up for those who had to leave. We’d fall asleep full, not just with food, but love and family and gratitude.

When we were kids, my parents hosted most of the holidays. Somewhere I have pictures of all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins sitting around that big table, eating, joking, talking over each other. Somewhere are home movies of those times, taken by my dad as we sat blinded by the light. When asked to say grace, my mother’s father would say, “Grace! Let’s eat.”

In later years, my mother did say a real grace, and then we passed the food in both directions at once while people knocked bowls against each other. Someone might toss a roll to someone across the table. We were so sophisticated.

Holidays were never totally idyllic. Arguments broke out. People’s feelings got hurt. One year, my sister-in-law’s garbage disposal overflowed, and the men took turns on the floor trying to fix it. One year my mother’s oven didn’t work and the turkey was raw. In his later years, Grandpa hallucinated with dementia. Later, when my husband had Alzheimer’s, he was lost and confused all day. Toward the end of his life, my father sat silent, unable to hear much of what people said. But I also remember him smiling at his baby great-granddaughter, making faces at her.

Shoot, I’m going to cry. My father passed away last year. So many are gone. The youngest baby is walking and talking, and I haven’t seen her since before she could crawl.

Stupid COVID. Most years I worry about the weather driving to and from California in the winter. If it’s snowing at Siskiyou Pass, then I have to take the coast route, driving through wind, rain and mudslides. Not fun either way. But I haven’t made that drive since last Thanksgiving. After years of going back and forth, it’s strange. I haven’t left the Oregon coast since March.

I debated about going south for Thanksgiving, but ultimately decided I would stay home this year. When I called my brother to tell him, he already knew. The governors of both states had just locked everything down because of the latest surge in COVID cases.

Newscasters, government officials and doctors are all saying the same thing. Do not gather in a large group for Thanksgiving. Stay home. Keep it small. Don’t risk spreading COVID. I fear a lot of people will ignore that advice and spread the virus even more.

This is Pat’s first Thanksgiving without her husband, who died in July. It will be hard. Every first holiday is hard. My husband died the day before Easter. I went to Easter dinner at a friend’s house where I felt like an outsider with her family. They were all sorry my husband had passed, but they quickly went on to other subjects. I don’t blame them. No matter where you go, you feel like you’re from another planet when a loved one has just died.

Anyway, Pat and I, who have claimed each other as the sisters we never had, are planning a huge meal, to be followed by a movie. Maybe, if the weather cooperates, we’ll soak in the hot tub. Maybe we’ll Zoom call our families. Maybe we’ll cry a little. And we’ll eat leftovers for a week.

What are your plans, dear friends? How are they different this year?