My family, we’re Italian, and our major holidays almost invariably involved lasagna. Thanksgiving is not big in Italy. It is certainly nowhere near the Seven Fishes of Christmas Eve. It’s not Easter lamb. It’s not even, really Sunday dinner. It was a rough marriage of the two cultures, with me bringing the food of my culture (sausage) with the food of his culture (white sliced bread). Top that off with my parents avowal that once they moved to Florida (away from both sets of parents) they would never do a Family Holiday Dinner (capitalization intentional) again, and it was, to put it best, a homogenized holiday. But if my inlaws wanted a big dinner, then, by god, my parents were going to be good parents and attend.
Ultimately it became quite the dance – where we would hold Thanksgiving, who would cook, what we would eat. Christmas and birthdays were similar nightmares: I spent more time doing things to make other people happy for the sake of a tradition none of us – myself included – really understood. By the last year I was married, all I wanted for Thanksgiving Day was to curl up on the couch in my pajamas with a good book, glass of rum, and maybe a holiday movie about how much the holidays stink.
After I divorced, I spent most Thanksgivings watching the sunset at Fort DeSoto. I wanted no truck with family dinners and tradition; I had had my fill, thank you very much. I ran far and long from anything resembling tradition; never again would I sit down to a big holiday dinner because I had to.
But a few years ago I realized that I could bring only what mattered to a holiday dinner table. I realized that sitting down to dinner on a predetermined day didn’t mean that you had succumbed to some sort of Chex Mix, bridge club, soccer mom life where you surrendered your beliefs to live by rote. I realized that when you truly have things in your life for which you are grateful, you want to celebrate them.
In fact, this year I was supposed to have everyone to my place for a big holiday dinner, complete with turkey and lasgana. After years of hating the tradition, then years of recovery where I pretended the tradition didn’t exist, this was huge.
Or at least it would have been if family illness hadn’t thrown a wrench in the works. Instead of having turkey day here, my better half (known informally as El Cap) will travel out of state to visit a sick family member, and my parents, well, without my guidance they’ll likely end up at Cracker Barrel or Applebee’s. They’re not Thanksgiving folk without my interference, which is fine. They learned long ago to please themselves, and that pleases me.
You can imagine that, once it took me years to get to the place where I wanted to host Thanksgiving again, I was less-than-pleased as it all falling apart. Actually, I was disappointed and angry, but it came and went quickly.
You see, I realize I am lucky beyond measure, both that I escaped the traditions I hated and that I rediscovered the part of me that enjoys parts of them. I’m fortunate that I can take only what I want of them and move forward. I’m thankful, too, that I worked harder in anticipation of company in town, clearing the decks for most of the week to come, because now I have that time off. And yes, I will spend quite a bit of it in my jammies, sipping on mulled wine, and dividing my time between books and classically hysterical holiday films.
Instead of a holiday ‘do, I will be here, just me and the dog and two alarmingly indifferent cats, watching the sunset once again. Alone, but never lonely. I’ll make a turkey and a lasagna, just because I can.
I’ll slip down and watch the sunset and be reminded how very lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, the courage to live the life I want, and my little dog beside me. The sun will slip into the beryl blue Gulf on Thanksgiving night and I will head home, grab a piece of pumpkin pie, and think about everything I have instead of what the day was supposed to be.
I am grateful.