When I got married and started a family of my own, my mother told my mother-in-law (and I don’t think there was a discussion about this): “I’ll keep all the Jewish holidays,” (she meant Passover, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashana, Break Fast, and every Friday night) “…and you can have all the secular ones!”
It seemed like a fair division at the time, until we realized that all the secular holidays, for a Jewish family, actually means just one holiday– Thanksgiving. And because my mother in law is quite gracious, at my request, Thanksgiving soon became mine.
There’s not much I don’t love about Thanksgiving. I love that we have a “family shot” before the guests arrive– this year, I bought the ingredients for both Butterball shots (one part Bailey’s irish cream, one part butterscotch liqueur) and salted caramel Appletinis (salted caramel apple vodka, butterscotch liqueur and apple pucker). I love how we average about one dessert per person. I love that we started a tradition of having not one, but two turkeys, one fried, one roasted. I love how we fry Oreos and pickles in the turkey fryer for appetizers. Really, what’s there not to love?
This year, unlike other years, as I prepare for Thanksgiving, I am not sweating the small stuff- I have an inner calm. And it’s not just all the help I’m getting (and I’m getting a lot.) I don’t have energy for the small stuff when I am concentrating so hard sweating the big stuff: Like cancer, like dead parents, like whether my son will have more fun at his Friendsgiving celebration than at our traditional one (he made them a Chocolate Chip Yodel Baked Alaska; we are getting Brussel sprouts.)
My mother has been gone just over a year now, but I can picture her pulling up in my driveway on the night before Thanksgiving, her car trunk filled with table scape decorations: flowers for the table, gourds and fruits, a small scarecrow. I loved how she used to send my kids out, sometimes in the rain or snow, to collect greens from the yard, how she’d make a colossal mess transforming my table into something beautiful and festive, how I would get totally stressed out about the pine needles and the sticks and the moss scattered around the kitchen until my husband couldn’t take it any more and cleaned it all up.
And like Mary Poppins pulling amazing things out of her carpet bag, my mom would also pull out from that stuffed car a few other things we might need: an extra turkey breast (just in case), a killer pecan chocolate pie, a baked salami, 3 or 4 packages of meat knishes, a zucchini bread, a pumpkin bread and a spice bread, wrapped tightly in foil, still a bit frozen (she probably made them in September.)
This year, it’s more of a team effort. My adult kids will be making a real contribution (oh lord, please let them come through). Pinterest has stirred my youngest daughter’s creative side for the table scape that she says she’s taking over. Mike’s sister and mother, my brother and sister-in law, are all filling in the gaps of dessert, appetizers and sides. It is all of our Thanksgiving, not just mine.
This morning, I woke up early, got a start on the zucchini bread. I grabbed the mixer, and started grating the zucchinis. I broke the eggs, sifted the dry ingredients together, and got two loaves in the oven by 7 AM. And as they cooked, and the deliciousness spread around the mess in the kitchen, I realized that I had become a little calmer, more humbled this year, a little less stressed, a little more grateful. I sat down in the middle of the mess to take a few notes.
I was grateful for being able to drive myself to Whole Foods to buy the organic ingredients (and, of course, because it was Whole Foods, they were so reasonably priced!)
I was grateful for being strong enough to lift the mixer onto the counter (I could have done it with one arm, but I used two- just because I could.
I was grateful that I could use my right arm to grate the zucchini, and sift the dry ingredients together (only a little bit landed on the floor).
I was grateful that I have a wonderful source for fresh eggs from local chickens.
I was grateful that I didn’t forget any of the ingredients at the store so I didn’t have to send Mike back out to get them.
I was grateful to be doing a job that my mother used to do—but in my own way—measuring carefully, sliding a dull knife across the top for accuracy.
I was grateful for the smell of baking bread first thing in the morning.
The kitchen was a disaster when Mike came down and saw me taking notes in the middle of the mess. He did a 360 around the kitchen, mouth agape. “I assume that you are not done baking this morning, and that’s why you’re hanging out writing in the middle of this mess.”
“Nope. I’m done. I couldn’t clean up. I have cancer.”
I am grateful that my husband laughs at this, turns around, and cleans up the kitchen while I attempt to meet a deadline. He’s learning not to sweat the small stuff too.