Thanksgiving



thanksgiving cornucopiaI loved it even when I had to sit at the children’s table, kicking and stabbing my cousins with playful glee, as I took my knocks from them.

I loved the stuffing and dark meat, pies bursting with apples or pumpkin filling, cream pies oozing bananas.

I loved the warmth of hugs from my elders (but not the pinches), listening to their gossip and watching their complex interactions and my sensitive mother’s reactions.

I loved it all, and eagerly took on the role of hostess when I married and moved to a new city, far from my clan. Under a sparkling chandelier, my dining room table was set for 12 with China we’d hand-carried from England and gleaming silverware. Serving platters were carefully arranged on crisp celadon linen, around a straw cornucopia of autumn fruits and flowers.

Along with appetizers, there’d be a perfunctory tip of the hat to gratitude, then my husband would bring the carved bird from the kitchen, shouting, “Dig in!” and friends, neighbors and visiting relatives would fill their plates, partaking of all that our bountiful lives afforded us.

Over the years, the cast of characters changed. Babies evolved into teens, new faces replaced those lost to divorce, illness and death. Eventually, I sold my house and moved to a large apartment, where my Thanksgiving tradition continued. I invited foreign families of my son’s Washington International School classmates, who contributed new dishes to our sacred ritual.

A few years later, when that son, Michael, moved to San Francisco, married and announced a baby on the way, I packed the China and linen, the silverware and cornucopia, and headed for Walnut Creek, California. My sisters had moved to the Bay area in the 70s, as hippies, my older son lived a stone’s throw away in Los Angeles, and suddenly I was awash in family again.

So, on my first California Thanksgiving, though it was a tight fit in my new condo, my table was extended with four leaves and once again graced with my beautiful things, sans chandelier. It was fun to be together after so many years, on my favorite holiday.

But the time came when one guest requested a vegan meal, another gluten-free, and yet another, pescatarian. My limited kitchen skills were tested as I prepared salmon, as well as turkey, and re-heated a multitude of vegetable casseroles. I was frazzled. The thrill of the holiday was gone.

That was the year I bequeathed our Thanksgiving tradition to Michael and my daughter-in-law, Georgianna. They had just restored an old house in Oakland and could easily accommodate family and friends in their massive dining room.

I transitioned well, never looked back with longing to my hostess days. We dined on turkey and Dungeness crab and kvelled over my grandson Philo. Eventually, he tried his hand as chef and regaled us with home-made focaccia and other delectables as he grew.

In my 70s, I found a lovely little home in Rossmoor and downsized for the umpteenth time, planning to bring only necessities, my art and photos, and small keepsakes. But as the movers placed my beloved dining room set and boxes of China near the elevator, to be picked up by a charity, they found me sitting on one of the chairs, crying. I felt so foolish. Crying over mere things, at my age. After a lifetime of real losses. But the guys were kind, accustomed to these events, and brought me a serving bowl and platter that had not yet been packed. “You can keep these, Mrs. Kaulkin. To remember. We’ll find a place for them in your new home.”

And then I really cried.

And life goes on. Covid hit and Thanksgiving went on hiatus. One of my sisters moved to Portland, and Philo went off to college. This year we were merely five, plus a friend, enjoying Thanksgiving at the Lafayette Park Hotel.  Where they featured shrimp, salmon, abundant vegetables, along with Sir Tom.  And a good time was had by all.

“Thanksgiving” appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Vistas & Byways.

 

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