Thanksgiving Remembrance & Letting Go

Like many, this year’s Thanksgiving will be different. I’m planning a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner for two.  And that stark reality brought to me a realization that I need to give up on a dream, finally.  A blogging buddy (Linda – blog link) posted recently about letting go of dreams.  I need to let go of the “happy family dinner” dream.  It’s time.

It’s a solid dream, based on childhood.  We had a small family, but holiday dinners saw us all seated around the table, saying grace. I chuckle to this day about my mom serving ham on Easter with my Jewish aunt & uncle at the table.  They were not very strict in their religion and joined us for all the holidays – Christmas, Easter, and also Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.  We adored the Carvel ice cream cake or bakery strawberry short cake they would inevitably bring.  But, their presence was a big part of the holiday.

Holidays were about family gathering with lots of conversation. Everyone seemed to help in the kitchen pulling things together before dinner and later cleaning up.  Mom inevitably burned something, but I learned how to make everything associated with big family dinners, especially Thanksgiving.   Looking back, it was more about the family around the dining room table I recall – the sense of family.  I kept in touch with that aunt & uncle via regular notes for years after I no longer went home for all the holidays (too far to travel). Did they know I always had (and still have) fond memoirs of them?

I tried to recreate that feeling of a “Norman Rockwell” holiday dinner for years with my in-law family.  It never felt the same.  If I said dinner at 5, folks would walk in at 5:10. (One year, my SIL brought the rolls in at that time; rolls which needed to be cooked.  It’s hard enough getting everything on the table warm, and then a 25-minute cooking delay for rolls?).  For years, no one helped with cleanup; dirty dishes (sometimes for 15-18 people) stacked up in the kitchen.  I recall one year, a niece’s boyfriend felt guilty for not helping clean up, apologizing to me as they left, and they had come only for dessert!  My niece had never ever even attempted to help clean off the dinner table after eating, much less go into the kitchen to help in any clean-up.  As the nieces and nephews grew up, they no longer came to dinner (nor have they kept in touch).  Then their parents (my BILs and SILs) began to have other things to do for the holidays.  A coupe of years ago, I called it – “the end” – no more Thanksgiving or Easter dinners.   Hubby had pointed out the lack of appreciation from his family for years; I kept hoping for that sense of family from my childhood.  So after trying for 16 years, my family holiday dinners (as dysfunctional as they were) disappeared.

But I recently realized I still had the dream of family (or extended friend family) around MY table for a holiday dinner.  The past couple of years (pre-pandemic) we joined family friends around their table, and enjoyed the company (and very much appreciated the invite!).  But, it’s not been dinner around my table.  It didn’t realize I still had the dream; it’s hard to let it go.  This year, I’m making all the foods I love for Thanksgiving – enough to feed that family around the table – for the last time. It seems silly to make the whole spread for two people, so I honestly do believe this is the last time.  Yes, it is time to let go of that dream.

I am also pondering gratitude, as one is prone to do on Thanksgiving!  Did I ever express gratitude to my parents for making those wonderful family dinners happen, year after year after year?   Do they know how much it was appreciated – then and even more now? So Mom (I know you read my blog), thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I know I’ll never recreate it in my own home (and that causes me tears), but I am so very thankful for the memories of our regularly celebrated “Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving”.

27 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Remembrance & Letting Go

  1. Oh, my sweet friend, your post has me blinking back tears. All those years of hard work and so little appreciation or consideration for your hospitality. I am so sorry. Cooking really is – for me – a language of love. I am no gourmet chef but what I fix, even tomato soup and grilled (or at our house – gorilla) cheese is done with caring and love.

    I am glad you fixed all of your own favorites this year and have enjoyed them for days afterward. I am thankful you have sweet memories of Thanksgiving around your childhood table and the preparation and clean up in the kitchen. As a child, we never lived close to any relatives and our holidays were only the immediate family. Thanksgiving is the holiday I like best because it is about gratitude and food!!

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  2. Happy Thanksgiving! Great post. My Thanksgiving message to my American friends is to be like a wild Turkey. I am sure you will be a bit puzzled by this message. I invite you to read the full article I wrote on this subject to understand my Thanksgiving Message – https://authorjoannereed.net/thanksgiving-message-be-like-a-wild-turkey/. I also talked about this beautiful tradition of granting a pardon to a lucky Turkey started by President Lincoln in my article. Feel free to check it out!

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    1. Thanks for the info on turkeys! I’m not really a wold turkey myself as I don’t like to strut my feathers…although I do like the happiness element. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving yourself.

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  3. I grew up in a small family (Mom, Dad, and two brothers) but Thanksgiving always included my grandmother and grandfather. Now that I’m all grown up and we don’t have kids, Thanksgiving is often just the two of us. Sometimes we’ll have guests, and sometimes we are invited to join in another family’s celebration… but often it’s just us, and that’s OK. We still cook a turkey and include the usual side dishes. It’s always yummy, stress-free, and I not only have tons of leftovers (my favorite meal!), but also the turkey carcass for soup.

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    1. Janis, It’s been helpful to hear others also in the holiday meal for 2 camp and making the traditional meals. I even made turkey stock this year! It was nice with no evening company to be able to do that. And I am with you – I love turkey leftovers! I think it’s why I love making the whole dinner.

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  4. This hit me in a really good way, Pat. I too have great memories of family Thanksgivings that included loving our closest aunt, uncle, and cousins. Nothing I’ve had a part in creating as an adult ever matched those earlier memories, perhaps because I tried too hard to make it so. Since moving to Florida my wife and I have only had Thanksgivings for Two, and honestly because we had no preconceived notions, they’ve been some of the best ones yet for me. Just being in the moment, and having no expectations (probably for the first time) no doubt provided that. This year, we actually had plans to hit the road to be with family. But instead we’ll just make it for two also, and I’m not complaining.

    Enjoy your feast! – Marty

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    1. Marty, Our Thanksgiving for Two was a surprisingly stress-free day! I still cooked for hours, and it took about 15 minutes to eat, but we’ve had leftovers for days, which I love. My sister and brother loved my nostalgia about our childhood and shared even more memories of my fav aunt & uncle- via Zoom… that was nice too. It was nice to hear from so many blogging buddies that they too have the holiday meals for two… I feel like I’m in good company!

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  5. I can relate in a way to what you are saying Pat. As a child, my grandmother always fixed a big Thanksgiving dinner around a formal table. I have such fond memories of those celebrations. Now, as the grandma, I just haven’t found a way to recreate that. We have a blended family, which means other sets of parents to consider, and now all the children are married, so there are in-laws as well. Most years, we do have dinner with one of our children’s families, and a few years my husband and I have stayed in a nice hotel and had a delicious room service dinner by our window with a view. All lovely experiences, but not the same as my childhood memories. Christmas has come to be our big family gathering, and I’m happy with that. Of course, this year, even that will be different. I hope to create an experience that will be pleasant and memorable just the same. I hope that you and your husband enjoy your intimate Thanksgiving dinner.

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    1. Christie, I hope your Thanksgiving was lovely. Our intimate dinner was surprisingly stress-free. Way too much food, but no worry about when to get it on the table, if something wasn’t quite “right”, and hubby insisted on doing all the dishes! Of course we’ve been eating leftovers for days, which I quite enjoy! I think for Christmas, I might look into takeout from somewhere though!

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  6. Dear Pat and Friends, had thought about making reservations at a nice restaurant for thanksgiving for one, but…nah. Eating in a restaurant
    on Thanksgiving? So not the same – and anyway, takes staff away from their families. Though, splurging (which is rare) this way, would mean turkey and stuffing, i had instead bought a 5 pound chicken – will stuff and roast that.

    By the way, the turkeys at the store were big enough to last beyond Christmas … 2024.

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    1. Sue, many of the local restaurants here are doing take-away dinners… hoping to boost some income in this crazy time. But so many of my Thanksgiving foods are traditional – the stuffing the way my mom makes it, the cranberry sauce I tweaked for years until I liked it. I ended up with a 13 pound turkey and now am looking at recipes for turkey leftovers!

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  7. I would echo a lot of what Leanne says, especially “happy to have any day near Christmas to get together”. Seven years ago, I proclaimed that if there were 3 wieners in the fridge freezer, that’s what we would have at Christmas when family would change plans unexpectedly. Holidays became far more enjoyable when I loosened expectations and stopped over-preparing. Why do we do that to ourselves? Being together trumps the menu in my house any day. I prepare special recipes and treats based on what I like. I don’t think it’s silly for you to prepare the full meal deal if you’re prepared to put in the effort for yourself. You are absolutely worth it.

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    1. Loosen expectations? Me? Have you been chatting with my hubby? (He is always telling me the same thing!) But seriously – yes, lowering my expectations is key. I will focus on enjoying the food creation (I do like to cook!), the smell of turkey permeating the house as I do the bigThanksgiving Day crossword in our local paper, and yes, my favorite foods (fresh cranberry sauce, homemade gravy on creamy mashed potatoes, my mom’s version of stuffing). I am worth it. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  8. Pat, I think you need to modify your dream and realize that cooking a traditional for two still has its beauty. My husband and I have had various types of Thanksgivings through the years – many “family” type celebrations at our very small home. But there have been times over the years where we were alone and I have to admit, I made ALL the typical foods for us two and enjoyed the day immensely. No pressure for timing, no worries about how things will turn out, no fear that people will be late. Just relax, put on some nice music and putter in the kitchen and just eat whenever it is done! Football in the background and nap time dreams to come! Enjoy each aspect for what it is. And yes, be grateful we have this issue instead of wondering where our Thanksgiving dinner will come from!

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    1. Ruth, You’ve given me the absolutely best relief of guilt all day (so far). I’m going to enjoy the creation and the eating of this dinner! And you are right, no worries about timing, put on nice music, open a bottle of wine (OK, I added that one). Yes, this is very much a “first world problem”… I am immensely grateful for the fact I can create a full Thanksgiving day dinner, without worry for how to pay for it. Plus, hubby will help with the clean-up, even as he grumbles about how will all the leftovers ever fit into the fridge!

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  9. My family has always had big holiday dinners around the beautifully set table. But it’s never been at my house. I have also tried this with Tim’s family but they seem more like paper plate and buffet style people. However, I think it might be making an impression as we celebrated last Christmas at his daughter’s house and she set a nice table and we all ate together. I think it was the first time they’d used their dining room table that way!! We are also having Thanksgiving for two this year but making a traditional dinner. Our holidays are doubly changed this year with my mom in a care center. Holiday traditions are tough to let go.

    Thanks for mentioning and linking to my blog post!!! Happy Thanksgiving!!

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    1. Linda, Your post on letting go of dreams really did inspire this thinking. It’s been helpful to hear how many others have also let go of the big family dinner dream! Why does that dream remain in our social consciousness if it is not reality to so many? (Rhetorical question!). Happy Thanksgiving to you & your Tim!

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  10. Well, the first step is recognizing the need for change. You are already good at Try – Learn – Modify -Repeat. We have gone from huge family feasts to small family feasts as the kids have grown and moved away. Now only 3 of the 7 are in the Cincinnati area. And we aren’t even at the baby stage where even more we won’t get together at holidays. I know it will be depressing. It is hard to let go of those dreams for family togetherness and happiness. Just a thought – ordering a fancy dinner from a restaurant might be fun new tradition. And hopefully next year will be a return to Friendsgiving opportunities. This year my daughter will join us for Thanksgiving dinner via Zoom. Like you, she is making all the traditional side dishes plus a turkey for just her and her boyfriend this year.

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    1. I actually had the thought of restaurant dinner as I wrote this post about it being the last time I make the full dinner. Next year, we might even be able to go somewhere for dinner. And who knows what 2021 fall will be like… maybe it will be a Friendsgiving in Florida! Oh, and thanks for the reminder about family zoom…I’m figuring out everyone’s dinner time… so far I have a 12, a 3, and a 6! We won’t be eating together, but now I need to figure out when best to connect (and not stress anyone’s meal prep).

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  11. Hi Pat – dreams are a strange thing aren’t they? My adult children say I have a Brady Bunch mentality when it comes to family (minus Alice for the clean-up!) I’ve had to adjust that big time over the years. I think mine comes from wanting to create the type of family that I didn’t have growing up – and it’s taken me probably a decade to completely let that go and to enjoy a more relaxed family vibe – especially for Christmas (we don’t have Thanksgiving in Australia). I used to hope for a big family Christmas Day lunch or even Boxing Day…..but once the kids married we had to compromise with two other families + their own little family units – and slowly we shuffled our way down to the bottom of the list – and I’m now okay with that – I’m happy to have any day near Christmas to get together, and I’m soooo grateful that our covid numbers are minute and we can see our kids and grandgirls and our mothers – I’ve found that we just have to keep re-creating our traditions to make them fit – and not flog a dead horse – I think you’re much better off without those awful relatives!

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    1. Leanne, A decade? Oh dear. I think I’ve probably been coming to terms with it for awhile (enough wishy-washy in that sentence?). The uniqueness that is this year just made it hit harder. Christmas will be similar, but that one has less impact than the Thanksgiving dinner image. And I wish I could say anything positive about Covid numbers… ours are going UP daily. It’s frightening. I’m glad you can see everyone this year…. won’t be the same story in the US.

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  12. This is your best one yet! I’m sorry the people didn’t appreciate your effort, but I’m sure some day they will fondly look back at what you were trying to do for them. I think none of us appreciate those great family holiday dinners when we have them, but we sure miss them when they are gone.

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