Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving week is here, my favorite holiday of all. No gifts, just food, just enjoying who ever shows up at the table. I love the meal, I love the cooking and planning and setting the table. I love that every year I plan for those I know will be here and Chef says late in the game, “Would it be okay if I invited a couple more?” Every year. I know my Chef, he can’t bear to think anyone would spend the day alone. Our table always is big enough, there is always enough food for more. But more than the meal, I especially relish the spirit of gratitude that descends upon us.

Remembering years past, previous tables and guests who won’t join us this year, I can’t get lost in wishing. While it would be amazing to collect people and just keep adding more chairs, more plates, I know that memories will have to do. Saying grace together before our feast, captured in pictures and forever in my heart, these meals make each new one richer. Laughter and stories echo around the dining room, we still remember those who are dining elsewhere, their place at our table forever etched in our history. I pull out recipes, consider that this is the favorite of my daughter, I remember her licking spoons and sneaking tastes. Another recipe calls to mind my mother, the best cook ever, who instructed me on my first time cooking the meal over the phone, my notes are on the back of envelopes, still tucked away in my recipe box.  I think about my son who mostly likes the desserts, prefers to eat without all the fanfare, making huge plates of leftovers after everyone is gone.  We used to always celebrate with a neighboring family, they didn’t cook anything, loved everything we made. They always brought something from the store, a pie and a great bottle of wine. They stayed the longest, late into the evening, laughing, oh how we laughed.  Mama has been with us for most of the last 7 years now, she loves sweet potatoes, so much so that when she was breastfeeding Plum he turned orange!  A couple of years ago we served our meal to parents of each of our good friends, mothers who would soon pass away. These images of sweet women sitting at our table, everyone loving them with gentleness and care, will remain with me forever.

This year has brought many changes to our lives and yet we are moving forward with our meal, our celebration of thanks. We continue our tradition of cooking, cleaning, shopping, preparing a feast and gathering around a table. One day, for just a few hours, together to remember who we are to each other, in that moment. To create some new pictures, to build new memories.  The food is always delicious, the clean up a chore, yet I cannot abandon this one holiday and all it brings.

Our chairs will be filled out this year with our Korean friends, we celebrate with them often. Their son is the same age as Plum, only weeks apart. They are expecting a baby girl soon, just a few months after Mama’s new baby. They are as at home here with us as anyone, an extension of our family. Mama and her new husband will be here, with Plum. Mama expects my cooking on Thanksgiving.  She knows her place at the table, she is due in just a few weeks and we don’t argue with pregnant women. We have come to love her choice of spouse, he has grown comfortable here as well. Next up will be my favorite guest, my mother-in-law, J.

J stands barely 5 feet and could run the country. She has no idea what strangers are, she is the most generous person I know and is completely lacking in a filter for her thoughts. She  creates energy, she creates joy, she can sometimes drain mine as well. She has never missed a family gathering, a child’s event, a surgery, an illness. She shows up. This may be our last holiday with her when she really knows how much we love her, dementia is setting in. I plan to make it her best. We have always cooked together, she is an excellent baker. Those skills are going but she will be present in my kitchen regardless. I need this time with her, I need more pictures.

With each successive Thanksgiving, we come together, we remember, we count blessings, we share joys. Chef and I are always here, serving, loving, celebrating our friends and family.  Whatever else the year has brought, we always come around to that Thursday in November when our table is full and our hearts are bursting. We will be saying grace and thanking God for all of our blessings, near and far, old and new. May your day bring lasting memories, great food and extra chairs for those who show up unexpected. Remember to take some pictures.

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