Our Grandaughter's Place At Our Table
This week I took stock in my cupboards for Thanksgiving recipe ingredients. I realized while there are fewer goods in my stockpile, there is enough for a celebration for two. This Thanksgiving will not be our usual family event. Tim and I will be the only diners at our table. I will make a small turkey breast, stuffing, Green Bean Casserole and rolls. Tim will make his famous mashed potatoes. My Cranberry Relish will garnish the table, as always. I make a large batch in advance to preserve and share with distant family and friends. After all, it is tradition. Traditions die hard. But they do survive, as will my Cranberry Relish, winging its way from Tampa to Vermont, California and Oregon.
In my memory I wander through the years. I flip through pages of old photograph albums embedded in my mind. Inspired, I dig through my closet and unearth photos which renew decades-old memories. I discover the black and white photo of myself, looking miserable. It was 1958, the first Thanksgiving after my father’s death. I was lost, alone and uncomfortable among the joyous throng of cousins, aunts and uncles. I was searching for my place in the family and at the table. I found an anchor in my Uncle David. He took me aside and shared his fatherly love with a heartbroken nine-year-old. That was better than all the shrimp cocktail appetizers, Turkey and fixins’ topped off by my Aunt June’s amazing array of pies. My heart was as full as my tummy. Uncle David’s words, attention and laughter was my revival. I had discovered hope. There was a world after death filled with people who loved me. I was not alone. I could once again hear my daddy’s violin playing faintly in the backdrop of my mind.
My granddaughter's first Thanksgiving with us was when she was eleven months old. She bobbled in her baby chair. We were all thrilled to feed Kyndal snippets of turkey, mashed peas, potatoes and family history. The following year she sat in the antique high chair I had purchased in 1975 for my own children. The old caned highchair has served my family well over the years. Kyndal sat happily and expectantly accepting the love flowing from all sides, our family showering her with our joy of her existence. She looked bemused, happy and confident in the warmth of adoration served along with the turkey and dressing.
The following year Kyndal sat in an adult chair with cushions. She was quickly losing her babyness. We were all proud of her seat at our table within the heart of our home. After picking up an embroidered napkin she asked, “What’s dis?” When the concept of cloth napkins was explained to her as a necessity of special gatherings she wondered over the silliness of adults. “Tablecloth on my lap?” she asked, as she carefully placed the bit of finery in its proper place. She admired each table setting with it’s individual tiny bouquets in their special miniature cups and pitchers. Kyndal has an eye for art which she loves creating. While her mom, Keleigh and I bustled around in the kitchen she and granddad worked on an art project.
Over the last fifty years I have served celebratory Thanksgiving dinners no matter where I was living. Families change as well as time. The number of place settings have evolved over the years. Some family have moved, married and joined us with new wives, husbands and babies. Sadly some beloved family and friends have passed from this world. Children fill their places at my table. Although the seating arrangements have changed we still recognize each of our special places. We now have five grandchildren, four in faraway places. Only Kyndal is able to take her place at our Tampa table.
Last Thanksgiving Kyndal was older, wiser and aware of all the special touches which made this holiday a memory maker. She knew exactly where her seat was at our table. She confidently placed her embroidered napkin in her lap as she held court, chatting with one family member after another. She entertained and enraptured us all. Our little girl no longer needed a cushion to sit on. She was mature and tall enough to pass the turkey and stuffing. She proudly helped her granddad with the dishes.
Last week we had one of our monthly dinners with Keleigh and Kyndal, just we four. We were thrilled that there were no members of Kyndal’s school or Keleigh’s office who had tested positive for Covid. We sat outside as much as possible. Kyndal and Granddad Tim were able to create art while social distancing. Kyndal completed her painting by examining a miniature guitar on our wall. She is growing up so quickly, sometimes seeming closer to seventeen than seven. Where special toys were once a priority she now enjoys beating Granddad at UNO. She loves to “do” our hair and she and I have fun trying out new and strange lipstick colors.
Last Sunday, as Kyndal clambered into her seat she wore her joyous expression, looking forward to a delicious meal. It wasn’t Turkey, but Publix Fried Chicken, her favorite after my pasta with Tomato Basil Sauce. Most importantly, this was a family gathering we all felt safe enough to share on that day.
We are living in the moment. We are all pandemic weary and quarantine wary. The windows of opportunity for gatherings are quickly closing. The upsurge of Covid cases is breathing down everyone’s necks. The promise of a vaccine is becoming more of a reality than a hope. We look forward to our next family Thanksgiving celebration in 2021. We will have a lot to celebrate. In the meantime, I will freeze any leftovers for our next family visit, offerings of a turkey meal on a new day. This year our Whatsapp video calls will fill in the vacant places at our table, bringing our family together safely.
I don’t have to make turkey only on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter what day or year it is. This Thanksgiving I will make my sweetheart’s favorite meal. Each dish lovingly prepared and served represents all our Thanksgivings. What matters is we will survive, we will be together next year, if we are careful this year. Whenever or wherever we gather we will be welcomed and loved. We will share our memories and stories in the heart of our families. Every gathering after Covid will feel like Thanksgiving.
After all, Thanksgiving is a date that comes around every year. That is reason enough to give thanks this year, in anticipation of future holiday gatherings next year, and beyond.