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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two at the Table: Many in the Heart

Two at the Table by Charlotte Grimes

This is one of my favorite writings by Charlotte Grimes about how we pass on our traditions from one generation to the next.Whether your Thanksgiving is for 2 or 20, count your blessings and hold tight to your memories.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Regarding Nannies Team
Glenda, Alice and Kellie

Two At The Table, Many In the Heart

THANKSGIVING MORNING the comforting ritual starts:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Un wrap the turkey breast from its store-bought cellophane cocoon. "Why on earth would you do all that cooking?" people sometimes ask. There are only the two of us, you see, my husband Tom and me, in our household. "With no one else there," people sometimes ask, "doesn't it make you lonely?" They are interesting questions, and I set a part of my mind to considering them, while another part and my hands take over the familiar holiday tasks. Stick the turkey in the oven to roast. Lay it on the kitchen counter, for testing the doneness, my mother's old two- pronged meat fork, its’ wooden handle worn smooth by her hand.

Thanksgiving, of course, is a day of big family gatherings, of scores of relatives - children, cousins, aunts, grandparents - gathered around the table. Even today, when it's commercialized into the beginning of the Christmas shopping sea son, we think of it that way - the Norman Rockwell painting of American family life. But I sometimes wonder if the image is fair to either Thanksgiving or the family.

From its year long hiding place above the refrigerator, down comes the turkey's oval serving platter. It is a lovely thing of china roses edged in gold, bought by Tom's grandmother as a young bride. Out of the drawer, ready for the carving, comes My father's old silver handled hunting knife. Its blade is thin ,from his patient sharpening on a whetstone, almost too fragile for the job. Someday we'll have to retire it. But not today.

Once upon a time, like a fairy tale that some of us lived, a family was a chirping brood of grandparents, parents, and children all sharing the same house or street or county. And a gathering-in of the clan for work, for crisis, or for Thanksgiving was simple. A walk from the bedroom to .the kitchen table. A short journey by buggy, by car, by bus, to the family homestead.
Time to start the stuffing. With oysters. The recipe is from our friend Claudia. But in a shift that my generation knows all too well, the journey got more complicated as, first, our parents moved away from our grandparents and then we moved away from our parents. The clan scattered. We went away to college. We met spouses from other cities, from other states, maybe even from other countries, and made our lives in other places. We moved from city to city, following our jobs. And families got smaller.
Today, the Census Bureau tells us, most of us are one- and two-person households: The child grown up enough to have a place of his or her own; the spouse who's moved out after a divorce; the widow or widower growing older alone; couples with no children, or none yet; and empty-nesters whose children have flown.
Now for the side dishes. Roger's deviled eggs, with crumbled bacon. Aunt La Verna's sweet potato casserole, spiced with orange juice. For a green vegetable, Kath's sautéed cabbage and onions. Aunt Erline's rolls, golden brown and gently covered with the special green tea towel, a gift from Chuck and Anne, to keep them warm.
To be sure, the roosting instinct is strong and come the holidays many of us still load our cars or scramble aboard airplanes to travel to wherever the clan is gathering. But some of us - more and more of us, I suspect - awake one Thanksgiving morning knowing that the big family gathering of children, grandparents, cousins and aunts isn't possible this year. Not enough time off from work to make the long trip. Not enough money to buy the airline tickets. Too few of our grand parents, or even our parents, still alive to draw the much smaller clan together. That could be lonely, I suppose, if Thanksgiving could be no more than a reunion. Or if it were easy to forget how our lives are enriched by relatives who leave us heirlooms and memories, by friends who give us something of themselves.
Ah! the feast is done! It's far more than' the two of us can eat, of course. Later, we'll take a plate to Tom's mother, in her nursing home. Another to our neighbors, Bob and Cindy, who also will be two for Thanksgiving and who hate to cook anyway. And another is set aside for the homeless man who haunts our neighborhood, with whom Tom often shares his everyday sandwiches.
But I revel in our Thanksgiving ritual and as Tom carves the turkey with my father's knife and my mother's fork to lay the slivers on his grandmother's platter- as I pass him Roger's deviled eggs, Aunt LaVerna's sweet potato casserole, and Kath's cabbage dish, Claudia's stuffing, Aunt Erline's rolls from under Chuck and Anne's tea towel - it's hard to be lonely when I think, with gratitude of all the people at our table.


Kristen November 26, 2009 at 3:27 PM  

I love this story I read it every year. I even have dishes on my table from love ones who have passed. Thank you for sharing this story again.

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