This is the first Thanksgiving of my life spent un-grandparented. Not that we were always with Gram and Pop or Mame and Bob for the holidays, but they were omnipresent, even a couple thousand miles away. Since coming of age, I’ve laid holiday tables with place-cards, because of them. I’ve put on something pretty, hummed the Episcopal Doxology, and offered up gushing toasts. It’s what I know.
To their generation, most meals ranked highly enough for cloth napkins and fine manners; holidays elevated food and family to holy rituals, even when there was a cheeky hint of the sacrilege in the air. (My paternal grandparents hosted ‘fake church’– a bizarre fusion of biblical parables and grade-school drama club.)
In the context of meals-made-to-go at every stop-and-shop, this reverence is almost inconceivable today. Cooking everything from scratch? Provincial. Our grandmothers arrived at dinner with a wrapped index finger (onion-cutting accident) and a burnt wrist (trying to scrape the burnt sugar from the bottom of the oven before it stuck), but also a fresh application of lipstick and Chanel No. 5 behind the ears. Our grandfathers kissed their wives before carving into the big bird.
This year, without my multi-generational grounding, I ready my own family to carry our portion of the feast to a friends’ table. There will be 19 of us, an emphatically kid-heavy group sure to spill some cranberry sauce. My grandmother would approve. She possessed a spot-on sense of how to balance the divine and irreverent, the formal and relaxed. Would that I could phone her this morning for a recipe, and call back tonight with a report.
Instead, we’ll do today what millions do – piece together our own crazy quilt of inspiration and influence, and call it Thanksgiving. As whispers wrap ‘round tables laden with pasta or poultry, Beaujolais or beer – from neighbor to mother-in-law to uncle to friend. “This is what we’re thankful for…”