What are you doing for Thanksgiving? That’s the question everybody starts asking around this time. We all have images of the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner in our heads. You know, the traditional one with everybody in the family gathered around a bountiful table, with grandpa at the head carving the turkey. Some of us will duplicate that image, some of us will join friends at a church hall or a restaurant or a community center. No matter where we eat it or whom we eat it with, Thanksgiving dinners always seem special.
The first Thanksgiving I spent without a large family around me was when I was in graduate school, newly divorced, and living with my small son in a dinky apartment with a kitchen the size of a phone booth. I couldn’t stand the thought of how dismal the day would be without some other people around, so I called the university and asked the dean of student affairs to choose some students who were far from home and send them to me. Four people showed up, a young woman and three guys, all of them tentative and wary. I put them to work peeling potatoes and snapping green beans and figuring out how to get all of us seated at my teeny dining table. In no time, the guys were on the floor playing cars with my little boy and the girl and I were standing in clouds of steam and yakking as if we were family. It was a great meal, they took leftovers back to their dorms, and my little boy and I had a happy Thanksgiving.
Several years later, when our housing situation had improved a lot, Bob and Cloy Shannon, my across-the-street neighbors, invited us every year to Thanksgiving dinner at their ranch outside Houston. No house, just a flat ranch with a few bobbing oil-pumps and a one-room mobile home for bathroom breaks and washing kids’ sticky hands. About a hundred people would turn up with insulated hampers holding turkeys and casseroles and desserts, and the whole thing got laid out on planks laid across bales of hay. Fires would be burning, some for warmth because it was danged cold out there, and some for grilling venison or boiling pots of gumbo. Pink-cheeked children ran around in gleeful freedom, and there was always a tractor-pulled hayride. We ate on paper plates, there wasn’t a thing traditional about any of it, and it was terrific.
I’ve shared a lot of other family’s Thanksgivings, every one with a different tradition, and enjoyed them all. This year I’ve been invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with a friend’s family. I think we’ll be around fourteen people, in all. My contribution will be roasted creamed onions and whole cranberry sauce flavored with a clove-studded tangerine and cinnamon sticks. The cranberry sauce is something I have to have every Thanksgiving, no matter what. Other people think of cranberry sauce as just a little dollop next to the turkey, but to me it’s the main event. I just eat the other stuff so I can have cranberry sauce. As for the creamed onions, they’re something I’ve never made before. I don’t even particularly like creamed onions, but I saw this recipe online and the woman who posted it claims that roasting the onions and putting a little wine in the sauce transports them to something out of the ordinary. We’ll see. If they bomb, there’ll be plenty of other good things. The main thing is that about a dozen nice people will gather around a Thanksgiving table and create a memory.
I hope your Thanksgiving dinner is enjoyable in every way.