This week I saw the cutest kids with their mom. The two young boys were firmly telling their mom that she had to make the macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving dinner.
The mom, holding the toddler, said “I’m not cookin’.” The boys said it’s not Thanksgiving without the mac and cheese. “You’re going to have to talk to Grandma,” she told them, as they shook their heads in disbelief.
What followed was my contribution to the conversation, which was a discussion about whether or not mac and cheese deserves a spot on the Thanksgiving table (no, per me — a place of honor, per the boys).
Over 20 years ago, I brought cranberries to Thanksgiving dinner with my new in-laws. My father-in-law, surveying the buffet, questioned where the cranberry sauce was. “I thought someone brought cranberries,” he said, not recognizing my fresh cranberry sauce. He was looking forward to the canned, jellied Ocean Spray cranberry sauce.
Last weekend I was at the grocery store in a good mood despite the store being so full that every parking spot was taken. My daughter was coming home from college, my family is coming to town, and we all need a break from the daily grind.
Every person I passed made me smile. There was a middle-aged woman carrying collard greens so huge that they went from the top of her legs to her chin and filled both her arms. I thought: Who has collard greens for Thanksgiving?
There was a younger woman carrying three heads of cabbage to her cart to ask her mom if they were acceptable (they weren’t). I thought: Who has cabbage for Thanksgiving?
There was a lady in a drivable cart with her 20-something son reluctantly pulling a shopping cart behind, with apple cider and mulling spices. He rolled his eyes when she barked an order at him but said “yes ma’am” and put another item in the cart.
There was an older gentleman with a cane who was walking very gingerly through the chaos. He picked up a half gallon of milk and smiled at me. “We’re all gettin’ ready,” he said. “Yes, we are,” I replied, silently wishing him a table full of family with whom to celebrate.
Today I went to get our turkey from Honey Baked Ham, and I had the same warm, festive feelings as I looked around. The place was bustling. There was a man in the back who oddly had a hair net on despite having no hair. Every few minutes he would belt out a Santa laugh. Literally, “Ho Ho Ho.”
There was a worker trying to help someone decide between the desserts. “The pecan pie is real good but that one’s walnut cinnamon.” Every time the door chimed, I remembered my own young children tasting samples and playing among the store’s lane ropes. Of course, now they are all teenagers and were fast asleep during my 9 a.m. turkey pick-up time.
When my pre-paid order arrived, I laughed, as my husband had ordered pre-made turkey gravy to go with our turkey. I wrote to him that my mom was making her usual homemade gravy and he replied that he likes brown gravy with his turkey instead.
His gravy request (and, frankly, having green bean casserole instead of fresh green beans) is the in-law equivalent to my insisting on fresh cranberries and turning my nose up at cranberries in a can. My mom takes it a step further by insisting our cranberry sauce is in her mom’s crystal serving bowl.
Whatever you are serving at your Thanksgiving table, I wish you good eats and good company. I wish you, most of all, a deep sense of gratitude, which can be hard to muster when daily life is busy and crazy and beating you down.
I’m pretty inflexible with my own Thanksgiving dinner menu. While I will not be serving mac and cheese, collard greens, or cabbage at my own gathering, it makes me smile this year to think of families and friends gathering for their own collard greens, cabbage, and mac and cheese.
And while my family gathers together with all of our warts and imperfections, I am grateful for the people I love and will pause to remember those who have empty places at their table this year, either from death or distance or family discord. May we all find reasons to be grateful.