It was Thanksgiving evening, and my son and I were in our coats. We’d been trying to leave for 20 minutes. I was hot, I’d eaten way too much, and I was starting to feel anxious.
Now our sweet Mama wanted me to take the turkey carcass.
“Let me just wrap it up for you real quick,” she said.
“Thank you, Mom, but we’re good with all the generous leftovers you already gave us.”
“You could use it to make soup.” She was already lifting the bony skeleton into a plastic bag.
My sister hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Just take the turkey carcass. It’s easier than resisting.”
I’ve been reminiscing about past Thanksgivings this week. Have you? Perhaps it’s because the pandemic has changed everything, but my recollections seem extra clear and precious.
Our mother prepares for the family feast all week—shopping, cleaning, cooking, polishing silver and making turkey stock for the gravy.
When we arrive, she offers her crunchy roasted almonds in a silver dish. Drinks are poured and we crowd in the kitchen to help. We stir and chop and laugh and eat handfuls of Chex mix. The kids play with our parents’ dog, Martha.
The turkey emerges from the oven, golden brown with an aluminum foil cap covering the stuffing. Pop eventually pulls out a sharp knife and says, like clockwork every year, “I guess it’s time to disassemble the turkey.”
Mom has set a pretty table with fresh flowers, candles, cloth napkins, the family china, and silver cutlery with the patina that comes from decades of service. Music from the stereo plays in the background.
We hold hands, bow our heads, and Pop gives thanks to God for each one of us and asks for blessings on our meal.
Around the table we talk and pass dish after dish, all our favorites—the disassembled turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, scalloped corn, a green salad with fresh oranges, cranberry relish, and Aunt Lois’s cherry bread. Because we are a gravy-loving family, Mom serves it in a silver water pitcher instead of a gravy boat.
The dishes go around the table again and again, with much encouragement to have seconds and thirds.
My sister bakes the world’s best pies—pumpkin, pecan, apple, jumbleberry, cherry and more, and these are served after dinner with whipped cream and hot coffee. Most of us have “a sliver” of each, because how can you resist?
Then we sit around the table and tell stories and laugh. Pop picks up a spoon and taps it against his cheek, making hollow little tunes.
Eventually the sun dips behind the mountains and we begin to think about leaving. This process takes time, as the leftovers will need to be divvied up with many admonitions to take more.
After the negotiations of the leftovers are completed, it’s time for all the hugs and goodbyes.
Then we finally load up the car with a slew of plastic containers (and one very large turkey carcass) and make our way across town, happy and well-fed in every way.
The Difference a Year Makes
On Thanksgiving 2019 we gathered for a large, raucous meal hosted by my niece Emilie and her husband Quinn. Looking back, I marvel at the normalness of the day and how innocent we all were.
None of us had any inkling of the worldwide pandemic that lay ahead, or the heartbreaking fact that here in the U.S. there would be 250,000 empty places at the table this year.
Our small, simple Thanksgiving 2020 will no doubt be memorable in its own way.
But I would give anything to have everyone gathered for the family feast, and stretch out those hugs a little longer.
Perhaps this is one of the gifts of COVID-19, the realization of how precious our times together truly are.
I know I will never take a Thanksgiving dinner with the people I love most in the whole world for granted, ever again.
And Mom? From now on, I promise to take your generous gift of the turkey carcass without a fuss.
How About You?
How will you celebrate this Thanksgiving?
Will you share some of your Turkey Day memories here?
I’d love to hear about your celebrations, your family’s quirky traditions, and the moments big and small you’re remembering this week.
May God bless you this Thanksgiving, and keep you and your loved ones safe and well.