Tonight as I cleaned up my kitchen I had to think about all the Thanksgivings that I didn't have a kitchen to clean. I had a kitchen. Just not one that needed a massive cleaning after the Thanksgiving meal. Because there was not a Thanksgiving Meal. More than once I had no turkey, no dressing, no cranberry sauce.
I really don't know how it happened. Or how anyone could allow me to be alone on Thanksgiving. But it happened. More than once.
The first time it happened I was a freshman in college. I had planned on returning home to a big feast. About a week before classes let out for the holiday I got a call from Cruella saying she was going to be attending a fish fry at her friend's house on Thanksgiving Day. Fish Fry? Fish? On Thanksgiving? I slowly began to realize that meant she was NOT cooking. She was not preparing a family day. I would be coming home to an empty house. I wasn't about to stay in the dorm for the long weekend. So I drove on home. Stayed in the empty house alone. I don't really remember what I ate on that Thanksgiving Day. But I remember it was quiet and lonely and horrible.
Then the next November rolled around. Months tend to do that. No matter how miserable the last holiday was, you always hope and wish that "this time it will be better". Well, it wasn't better. As usual I spent the holiday at home. This time my grandmother was in a nursing home. So on that cold and rainy Thanksgiving morning I drove over to the facility and sat with her. She slept the entire time. It was cold in the room. And oh so quiet. Every now and then I'd hear some voices in the hall. But nobody ever entered the room. It turned the television on. Watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Fell asleep. When I woke up it was still raining outside. Still cold. And Grandmother was still asleep. By now I'm getting hungry so I drove up and down the city looking for an open grocery store. Found one. Nationals. I don't think this chain is still in existence but I can remember the Thanksgiving Day when I walked in hoping they had SOMETHING left "Thanksgiving-ish" to eat. Nope. No turkeys. No stuffing. Not even stove top stuffing. No pies. I wandered around and around with an empty grocery cart. There were other shoppers there. All of them alone. All of them just as lonely as I was. I finally decided I'd just make Duncan Hines Blueberry Muffins. Of course that meant I had to go back around and buy eggs and milk. And I was a poor church mouse. So that just about blew my food budget for the next week.
I remember yet another Thanksgiving long ago. I was in high school. Cruella announced she was not planning on doing anything for Thanksgiving. She was going on a trip with her friends. Shaggy Dog immediately made plans to go on a trip with her friend's family. I thought about being alone. I was too proud (or embarrassed) to ask somebody I knew if I could be invited to their family thanksgiving feast. I mean, how do you do that? I didn't want anyone to know I was ............ invisible to my own mother! By some chain of events, I had a friend who casually invited me to join her at her grandmother's house. I jumped at the chance. I'm sure she was shocked and put on the spot. Yes she had invited me but no, she never thought I'd accept. She probably invited me before she even asked permission to bring a guest. Thinking back on it I'm sure that's what happened. Her grandmother lived about an hour away. We were going to drive up the day before and spend the night at her parent's camp. Which we did. And it was fun. The next day came and went and no Thanksgiving. She did not mention it. I was too afraid to. We just stayed in the little cabin alone all day. We cooked some chicken and gravy. That was the only food there. I wanted to ask her what time we were expected, etc but I was too embarrassed to ask. It dawned on me that I had imposed upon her and her family and well, I just wanted to run. RUN! I made it through that day and could not get home fast enough on Friday.
I've had lots of bad Thanksgivings. There are more stories to tell. The first Thanksgiving of my married life, my new husband and I stopped by my mother's house. On Thanksgiving Day. She was serving lasagna. Strange lasagna, too. Awful. One of my cousins happened to be there and she was the star of the show. Although she had never completed a project, never made a wise decision, never had any ambition or talent....... my mother loved her. And that's alright. But she loved her and showered her with attention and affection right in front of me. Who she ignored. I was invisible.
Ironman and I left as quickly as I could get out of there. We were living 2 hours away at the time and stopped at a restaurant to have Thanksgiving Dinner. They were completely sold out of turkey and dressing. We went across to a hotel and the embarrassed restaurant manager told us they had nothing left. I don't remember what we finally got to eat. Maybe McDonalds. But I swore right then and there I would NEVER darken Cruella's door again. On Thanksgiving or otherwise. NEVER.
I only broke that promise to myself once. I did show up at her house once when I was expecting our second child. I stayed for a few hours. It was awkward. I guess I just needed to try it one last time. I thought maybe she'd step up to the plate and be a grandmother. I was wrong.
And so this Thanksgiving as I spent over an hour cleaning up after our feast, I am grateful for lots of dishes, lots of food, lots of laughter, the alphabet game we play every year, all the turkeys and pilgrims and indians, all the cooking, all the preparation, all the people I love with their feet under my table. Thank you for sharing Thanksgiving with me.