Patty Gamon and her sister tag-teamed Thanksgiving dinner for more than 20 years before they threw in the turkey and started a new tradition.
These days, their celebration includes no cleaning, no shopping, no prepping and – most importantly – no stressing.
They might have to wait in line for 20 minutes; there are no reservations. But, there’s no going back to cooking their own turkey, making their own stuffing and doing all those dishes.
“We quit,” Gamon said.
Gamon – who’s 69 – is among a growing number who are giving up on cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal. But it doesn’t mean they are forgoing the festivities.
Many are giving thanks by volunteering to serve dinner at shelters and missions, going to dinner at a friend’s home, or going out to dinner and letting chefs do the cooking and clean-up.
In the past, restaurants traditionally closed on Thanksgiving. More and more, they’re staying open to accommodate those who don’t want to cook.
It’s a trend that could pick up.
Many boomer women who took over the traditions of big Thanksgiving dinners from their mothers – who took over from their mothers before them – are discovering it isn’t always easy to pass on the practices to their grown daughters or sons.
While Gen Xers are opting out, families aren’t staying home. They’re enjoying their holiday dinners at area restaurants and resorts – like Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, where the buffet alone will go through some 1,500 pounds of turkey.
“In the middle of the afternoon on Thanksgiving, the lines will be out the door,” said Bob Rogers, who oversees all 14 of the food and beverage venues – including River’s Edge, the casino-side buffet – at Northern Quest.
The carving board will feature prime rib and ham as well as turkey. There will be stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and a dessert bar with pumpkin, pecan and other pies and treats.
“And you can take as many as you like,” Gamon said. Not only that, but, “The beans are crisp,” and “They always have salmon.”
While she admits she misses her mother’s stewing chicken dressing recipe, Gamon isn’t going back to making the traditional Thanksgiving meal. When her family first tried the casino buffet, she said, “The food was wonderful. Everybody got what they wanted. And I didn’t have all that work to do.”
Growing up, Gamon’s grandmother hosted Thanksgiving. The duty eventually fell to her mother. And, in 1986, when Gamon was 42, she and her sister took over.
Back then, unlike her mother and grandmother, Gamon was working full-time – as a teaching librarian at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. Thanksgiving was usually held at her house, but she and her sister – who’s four years younger and also worked full time – split the expense and work.
“There’s just so much,” Gamon said. “We tried to share.”
They worked together to perfect their stuffing, getting it to taste like their mom’s and grandmother’s even though there was no written recipe.
Early on, they used real mashed potatoes and roasted an entire turkey. But eventually, they opted for instant potatoes and a turkey breast.
“Each year we dropped something because we just couldn’t keep going,” Gamon said. “We were so tired.”
She usually made candied sweet potatoes, pecan pie, green beans, Jello salad and a veggie platter with must-have black olives. Dinner was held at her house, so she also had to clean.
Her sister brought the potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and dark meat – a hind quarter – her husband’s favorite.
Five years ago, sitting at the kitchen table, the Spokane sisters agreed: They just didn’t want to do it anymore.
“It’s very stressful,” Gamon said.
She and her sister had been cooking for 10 or 11 family members every year for more than 20 years. And their children weren’t poised to take over. Nor were they expected to.
“We just did it because it was expected of us,” Gamon said. “Your grandparents did it, and your parents did it. It was an expectation of my generation. (My daughter) is a modern woman.”
She’s 43, a year older than Gamon was when she and her sister took over the holiday from their mother. She works full time, and she works the day before and after Thanksgiving.
The casino buffet, Gamon said, “works for everyone. Nobody questions it. It’s what we’re doing. It’s our tradition. We are still a family eating together like a family. And it’s an incredible meal. The thing I like most about it is the variety.”
At River’s Edge, offerings include pumpkin soup, grilled Idaho rainbow trout almandine, bourbon glazed cod fillets, roasted leg of lamb, baked macaroni and cheese and sugar baked sweet potatoes – among even more menu items.
The buffet costs $24.95 per person, $22.95 for seniors and $8.95 for children 5 to 10.
Prices increase at Masselow’s, Northern Quest’s fine-dining restaurant which will only go through about 200 pounds of free-range turkey on Thanksgiving. It comes with oyster stuffing, cranberry compote, potatoes, vegetables and gravy for $36. Other Thanksgiving entrees – bison rib eye, shrimp in saffron cream sauce, Ellensburg lamb chops – run $32 to $54.
As far as diners go, Rogers said, “It’s anybody who doesn’t want to cook.”
At Masselow’s in particular, “I would say the couples are typically older. The families are boomers. I think it’s really empty nesters.”
It’s similar at Priest River Hardwood Grill, where Thanksgiving Day diners choose from pasta primavera, appledwood smoked turkey, grilled prime rib, osso bucco, grilled steelhead and steak Oscar. Entrées come with – among other things – “lots and lots of gravy” and unlimited trips to the dessert buffet.
Owner and chef Mark Clarkson, who was born on Thanksgiving Day 1952, began opening his restaurant on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, at the beginning of the recession.
“It made sense because so many families are spread out across the country now and going to all that trouble and expense for a few family members fell out of favor,” Clarkson said.
Thanksgiving traffic has been growing at his restaurant, and many customers are boomer couples by themselves, he said.
“I see boomers throwing in the turkey towel and happy to do so, especially the same family members who always do all the work,” Clarkson said. “But it’s not the same as celebrating at home.”
Gamon has no complaints.
“We all hold hands and say grace, just like we did at home,” she said. And, “the longest we’ve ever stood in line was 20 minutes.”