I prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner the first year I was married. We bought a very small turkey and I used one of those turkey-cooking bags that are specifically designed for morons, which was really an appropriate choice for me. I went a little bit overboard with the side dishes: stuffing, yams, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits . . . basically, the equivalent of month’s food budget in one overcooked meal.
It was hard for us to figure out how to juggle his family, my family, our family, my step-family, his grandmother, his other grandmother . . .
Gradually, I stopped making a meal on Thanksgiving. It really didn’t seem to be worth the expense or effort since we were all stuffed to bursting already from all of the family gatherings. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, my ex-husband’s family are simply not normal people when it comes to preparing food. These people have traveled down from the Heavens above to grace our taste buds with divine ambrosia, with the food of the Gods, with flavor combinations that can make a strong man weep tears of ecstasy. As I am fond of telling people, even the forks taste good when these people start cooking.
If my former mother-in-law served a plate of bricks for dinner, we would dive right in and enjoy every bite of those bricks.
But I digress.
Over the years, our families have dwindled, and so have our gatherings. His grandmothers are both gone; my father and aunts are gone as well. Most of the nieces and nephews have grown and moved on into their own lives, trying to juggle multiple get-togethers just like we did as newlyweds.
And we are divorced now. This is my first Thanksgiving without The Big Guy. Without his mom or his brothers and their wives, without his aunts and uncles and cousins who made me one of them for the last eighteen years. Whether we met at Aunt June and Uncle Fred’s, or at Aunt Jan and Uncle Dale’s, I was never just their in-law. I was family, right from the start. They accepted me as one of them. His cousins became my cousins.
The first time I met his grandmother, I asked her what she wanted me to call her. I was expecting “Mrs. Meyer” or perhaps “Virgie.” Instead, she looked at me as though I had asked her the stupidest question ever asked, and instructed me to call her “Grandma.” Of course. What else?
I don’t think The Big Guy ever realized what a precious gift he gave me by sharing his family or how honored I am by their continued love and support despite the divorce. My own family was so different. Grandma lived in Arkansas and made it very clear that I was not her favorite; I can count on one hand the number of times I ever received a kiss or hug from her. My cousins in Arkansas and Oklahoma seem to be very nice people, and their wives are absolute darlings. One of my greatest wishes in life is to meet them someday outside of Facebook. My other cousins live less than an hour away, and we are all really making an effort to regain some kind of closeness, some of the camaraderie we shared as children.
Overall, though, my family has become my sister, her children, and my children. And that’s just going to have to be enough for now. Someday, I may fall in love again, but I just don’t know if I’ll ever fall in love with an entire family again.
For the time being, I am planning my Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in over a decade. I have a twenty-two pound turkey, which is exactly ten pounds over my current lifting restrictions, so getting that baby in and out of my oven is going to be an adventure. I will keep it simple, with only the side dishes that I know my children will eat, and I will follow it up with the obligatory pumpkin pie and my much-requested chocolate-chip cheesecake.
I’m going to set the table with my grandmother’s Depression Glass dishes, and I’ll be setting out an extra plate for the excellent young man who is dating my daughter. A rite of passage in its own way, about which I am in complete denial, but that’s a subject for another day.
And you know what? I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving on my own this year. On my terms, in my way, with my family.
As long as I can get someone to get the turkey out of the oven for me.