Thanksgiving is already next week (?!?). No traveling for me and my family this year. We’ve decided that we’ll be staying in town for the holiday, which means it’s time to prepare, plan and shop. The big day will be here soon, and I don’t want to be caught off guard.
Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Umm…
Confession time: I’ve been avoiding grocery shopping for possibly a couple of weeks, making quick trips for a few necessary items, neglecting to plan meals and lacking any desire to be creative in the comestibles department. Some days I just don’t want to cook, okay? Don’t worry, I feed my family, they’re just not getting fancy meals every night. They’ll survive.
Needless to say, with my recent lack of culinary conquests, I need to make a big change in my efforts as pertains to meal planning, or Thanksgiving is going to involve something less than typical, something like tacos. (Which maybe isn’t the worst idea, think about it… Turkey tacos, with cranberry sauce instead of salsa, corn taco shells instead of cornbread and green beans instead of lettuce… I’m kidding… Maybe.)
As I recognized Turkey Day was fast approaching and I have minimal food choices in my house, I started working on a shopping list yesterday, planning meals and scrawling notes of items that needed to be purchased. As the list continued to grow, I realized that there would be consequences suffered for my procrastinating, mostly in the form of me having to shop for more items than I care to number. Between weekly groceries needed, Thanksgiving and shopping for extra groceries to give towards food boxes for families in need at the kids’ school, I knew it was going to be a long trip.
Quit whining, I reminded myself, and be thankful you can shop for groceries…
With my attitude in check, I continued listing the items needed. Thankfully, meal ideas came readily, and items needing to be restocked in the pantry were remembered. Hurriedly writing, hoping I would be able to read the words while in the store later (there are usually indecipherable items on every shopping list I create), I started adding Thanksgiving items to my list. I tried to keep the list simple, hoping to remember what ingredients I needed by only noting what side-dishes to shop for.
Grandma’s Fruit Salad.
Potatoes and gravy.
I added one more word, then stopped suddenly. As quickly as the inspiration had arrived, it fled, as did the breath from my lungs.
One word, mixed in with fifty other barely legible words, on my shopping list.
One word that told me I need to get multiple items for its creation.
One word, that carried with it an overwhelming desire to have another breakdown.
I wanted to curse and I wanted to cry, yet I did neither. Instead, I dropped my head into my hands and tried to shut out the world. And I tried to remember.
I tried to remember Thanksgiving from last year, yet it came with immense pain. That was when we realized there was something really wrong with dad. It was when we realized he was going to need to quit being so stubborn and see if a doctor could help him out with his back pain, and his stomach pain.
That was the last holiday we had together without the word cancer being so prevalent, so pervasive, in our lives.
I tried to remember the many Thanksgivings prior to last year’s. Holiday’s where, after cooking the turkey for what seemed like days (& we’d worry there wouldn’t be enough gravy to rehydrate the meat), dad would start to carve the bird; only to find out it was still undercooked. And we’d laugh outwardly while our stomachs grumbled for want of food and in protest of waiting any longer to eat.
Another time-honored tradition of Thanksgiving’s gone by; No matter what the time was we designated for our holiday meals, we never actually ate at that time. One O’clock usually meant a 4pm meal time. Maybe that’s why we never aimed to have our holiday dinners at dinnertime. Perhaps it was out of fear that it wouldn’t be ready until 10pm?
As I continued to scour my memory for days gone by, I couldn’t remember everything. Not everything I wanted to remember. I could remember dad’s smile when I arrived, handing him the apple pie and a promising I didn’t forget the sugar in my pumpkin pie this year. I could recall his hugs and greetings of, “Happy Thanksgiving, beautiful!”
But as hard as I tried, as much as I persevered, I couldn’t remember how dad made his stuffing.
He’d told me every year what his latest variation was, because it was always different. Similar, as it was made by him, but he’d try different things at times. Maybe he’d added a new seasoning, tried adding mushrooms, or possibly forgot to add something altogether… And I’d always make a mental note, thinking I’d try that if &/or when I ever made stuffing (Or remember to avoid that deviation. I’ll admit, there was an off batch or two over the years).
But in all my years, all of my culinary pursuits, I’ve never had to make stuffing. I understand most people either hate stuffing, or love it, there is no in-between. I am happily part of the crowd that will consume stuffing, but only once or twice a year, and only made by my dad.
So what now?
Suddenly Thanksgiving dinner with all of the gluttonous trimmings doesn’t sound so inviting. I’ve lost my appetite for all things holiday related. I don’t want to have turkey. I don’t want to make mashed potatoes and gravy. I don’t think I can handle the thought of making pies, especially an apple pie, as it was dad’s favorite. Even the thought of making the traditional fruit salad my like my grandma always made seems uninviting.
But most of all, and despite the fact that I actually purchased all of the ingredients, one fact remains; I don’t want to make the stuffing.
It’s not a sense of entitlement, wanting things to only go my way. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for what I do have. It’s not even that I always need to be indulged, but it’s a desire to again have the privilege…
Obviously, it’s not about the stuffing.
It’s about the guy, my dad, who made it. It’s about the fear of facing the unknown; a Thanksgiving without his smile in our presence to be thankful for. It’s about struggling to remain thankful when I honestly don’t always want to be, don’t know how to be… It’s about struggling with the stuffing do’s and don’ts and stuffing my feelings.
If I’m honest, I’m actually quite capable in the kitchen, the stuffing really shouldn’t be a problem to successfully create. But finding the balance of how much I should let my emotions flow and how much I should be stuffing away for another day? That will be the difficulty I face.
That and the even greater impasse, one that seems insurmountable, the dilemma I don’t want to acknowledge: there will be one face missing from our presence… One I am so thankful for… One I know will never be forgotten… One I am so grateful to have known… One that I miss more than I could ever express…
Next Thursday, I will choose to count my blessings. Despite the grief, despite the absence of one I love, I will choose thankfulness. I will surround myself with family who will undoubtedly be feeling the same spectrum of emotions as I am. And we will make new memories together, hopefully joyful ones, no matter how difficult that feat seems to be without dad. As we enjoy our Thanksgiving, I will choose to be thankful for the dad I had for the years that I did. A dad that was honorable, a dad that loved, a dad that gave of himself and his time.
And above all, I will remember to be appreciative for all that I do have, despite any painful circumstances. I’ll choose this, not solely because that’s the honorable thing to do, but especially because that’s the way dad taught me to live. He taught me by his actions, by his words, by his life, that I should be grateful in all things… And for that, I will always be thankful.
What will you give thanks for this Thanksgiving?