Every year growing up, the day before Thanksgiving was a magical time. My mother would get up before the sun and bake breads and pies. The tradition in our house was that everyone could pick their own pie to eat. Luckily for my mother, there were only a few of us to bake for. Still, it was a tradition that excited us all, even as small kids.
I remember my mother’s hands wrapped around a paring knife and shiny apple as she said, “You peel the fruit as carefully as possible. You’ll know you’re doing an excellent job if the peel falls to the floor in one long, loopy strand.” As I tried to emulate her skill of peeling just the skin, she would say, “Let’s see, your loop looks like the letter C! You’ll marry someone with a name that starts with that letter someday.”
Thanksgiving was the one holiday that symbolized motherhood to me as a child. I wanted to grow up and bake a special pie for everyone in my family. I wanted to play the apple wedding name game. I wanted to be the reason our home smells warm, cozy, and safe … like love. But every year, we go to my in-laws for Thanksgiving.
I married into a large family and each little tribe claimed a major holiday for themselves. That is, except for us because we had kids so late. Several years in a row, I gently and respectfully suggested as the mother of five that perhaps I should be allowed to host what is, for me, the most special family holiday of the year.
Just once, I want to wear the stained apron and wring my hands while I fret over my grandmother’s sausage and walnut stuffing recipe. I want to spend an afternoon setting the table and hem and haw over who sits where and what kind of centerpiece will add the right amount of class and fun to the occasion.
Instead, this year, I’ll spend the day before Thanksgiving in my kitchen cooking a full spread, only to then pack it up in tin foil to store away as leftovers … just as I’ve done for the last decade. I’ll fret over my son’s cowlick and my other son’s dirty shoes as we rush around on Thanksgiving morning. We’ll drive 30 minutes to my in-laws where I’ll sit in stiff clothes and make polite conversation with relatives I hardly know and see only once a year.
It isn’t that I am ungracious or even ungrateful. My mother in-law is a superb chef and her house is big and welcoming. Her hostess skills are admirable and I often find myself in awe of how she pulls it all together with such grace and ease. But a part of me feels like as I turn the corner on age 40, not hosting my own Thanksgiving is something I’ll regret. There’s something to be said about passing down traditions in the kitchen from mother to daughter. But for me, the tradition seems to end with plates of leftovers.
My memories of sitting on the floor in footed pajamas watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV while the house smelled like a wonderland of my favorite foods is intimately bound to my definition of love. So much so, that my heart feels a little crooked about not being able to step into my mother’s shoes and experience the holiday under the direction of my own turkey baster and wooden spoons.
For years, I’ve harbored a dueling sense of gratitude for the invitation and resentment for not hosting. But as my children grow and begin to look forward to the holidays, I’m finding they have their own sense of what makes this time of year so special. For them, it’s getting dressed up and going to their grandparent’s house where they can run like wild animals in a pack of cousins for hours on end.
So what if they don’t eat my Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day? We’ll still play the apple wedding game. And we’ll still have a feast of tin foil-wrapped dishes waiting for hungry bellies.