“There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.”
– O. Henry, “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”
What is it looking like at your house?
In the past, only snowstorms, power outages, an unbending boss or missed/delayed flights have prevented us from gathering together on the fourth Thursday of November in the home of the relative with the largest dining room. As we all know, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that blends family and friends along with food (and football), more so than any other celebration during the year.
There are others, of course, that bring us together, but Thanksgiving is the big one for family, when that’s the main purpose of the thing, when we’re grateful for one another, even (if only ever so briefly) for loud Uncle Harry, who shares his contrary views with gusto.
It’s also about food, sure, but being with family and friends-as-family dominates. In my child-rearing years, the picture is still vivid in my head of how, because our dining room was tiny in our first house, we put up a ping pong table in the living room and gathered around it with our kids and their grandparents and some friends who had become family, with an occasional stray thrown into the mix. After eating, the net went up, and there was ping pong.
In my much younger life, I remember Thanksgiving gatherings with aunts, uncles and cousins way more than any other activity that drew us together. One cousin getting jabbed in the elbow with a fork by my father because she reached for a drumstick before grace was said. My Uncle Charlie hoisting us little kids up individually to the ceiling with one of his big plumber’s hands. The status of moving from the kids’ table to the grown-ups’ table.
These memories are clearer than even my closest cousin’s wedding, at which I was maid of honor.
And now … there’s Thanksgiving 2020, the COVID-19-era Thanksgiving. What kind of memories will be made today?
In truth, I am writing these words early in November, and – if everything went well – I’m home on Turkey Day recovering from hip replacement surgery and in no shape to be writing. (I don’t do anesthesia well, and I have goofy brain episodes for many weeks afterwards.)
So I can’t know if some miraculous or disastrous thing will have occurred that changes the trajectory of how, here earlier in November, it looks like we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving. As of this moment, we’re generally advised not to travel over the river and through the woods, not to gather with people outside our usual safely distanced contacts or generally get together in any significant numbers. And certainly not without face masks on.
As Charles Dickens once wrote: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
I hope we have listened to the experts, and to Dickens.
But I’m pretty sure a number of us will ignore what the virologists and others who know about COVID-19 tell us and do the big gathering today anyhow. I’d like to say that our need to commune is a drive stronger than sense and science, but I really think that too often we don’t care to be inconvenienced, don’t want to spoil tradition and simply want to do what we want to do, regardless.
OK, I’ve gotten that off my chest, so moving on quickly to the good stuff, which is this: There is still gratitude to be had in smaller venues. There are still family and friends, turkey and stuffing, football (probably) and holiday memories to make. Just differently this year.
I hope we’ve come up with creative ways to do that. If we’ve figured out how to get groceries delivered online, how to educate our children through Zoom classes (still a work in progress), how to make our own face masks, how to aid neighbors in need and support local restaurants by doing more take-out … and how to do everything else we’ve had to unlearn, relearn, adapt, alter and omit – well then, I’m pretty sure we can solve how to do a socially distanced or virtual Thanksgiving, too. There are enough smart and creative and kind people out there who will have figured this out.
Surely that’s so.
I am thankful for my family and friends, though I miss my sons like crazy. I am thankful for too many things to list, but I do include this year, titanium hips. But the last thought today goes to Oprah Winfrey, who said:
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
— Stefanie Pettit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org