I had 36 people for Thanksgiving, so I’m a little tired.
I said goodbye to the last of the guests at 10 p.m., and crawled into bed, exhausted but too wired to sleep. My feet ached, reminding me of my summer banquet waitressing at the Glastonbury County Club outside Hartford. It was that good kind of tired, an exhaustion you get after a day of very hard work.
So here are a few things I won’t be doing this weekend:
- Christmas shopping.
- Putting candles in my windows.
- Cutting down my Christmas tree.
- Stringing Christmas lights.
- Doing anything related to Christmas.
I’m taking a break, resting in that natural lull that used to exist between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m not just being a cranky and tired Thanksgiving hostess saying this: Advent doesn’t start until Dec. 2nd. So I’m taking a chill pill, at least until Monday.
I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for about 30 years. My Dad announced one day that he thought it was time for my mother to pass the torch to someone else, and I quickly stepped in.
“Sure, I’ll do it,” I said. “How hard can it be?”
Boy, what an idiot. I quickly learned that there’s quite a bit of work orchestrating the biggest meal of the year, from the turkeys to the sides to the folding tables and chairs. I also learned that once you host Thanksgiving, everyone assumes you love doing it so it’s pretty much yours for life.
I can’t give away this holiday, and believe me I’ve tried. So when my sister-in-law Ann suggests relinquishing my hosting duties and joining them for a very Martha’s Vineyard holiday next year, I shrug.
“What about them?” I ask, surveying the grandmothers, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews and distant cousins from Germany packed in my house. “What would they do without me?”
There have been many years when I’ve thought I drew the short straw hosting Thanksgiving. The worst were when I was working as a reporter and undergoing infertility treatments, hopeful yet angry that starting my own family seemed like so much work.
But things got easier after I adopted my children and finally had my own family. It was easier to host the biggest family holiday of the year with a full heart. The yearning and emptiness of infertility permeates your entire being, making it hard to feel thankful for anything. In fact, I’m most grateful to my children for releasing me from its self-pitying grip, which may be the most damaging part of the entire experience.
Aside: If you want a good look at the horrors of the infertility process, which you probably don’t, watch the movie “Private Life” with Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn on Netflix. It accurately captures the longing and lengths people will go to conceive. It also makes you realize you’re not a lunatic, though you often feel like one during the process.
I began hosting Thanksgiving as a favor to my father, to spare my mother the hassle of hosting every holiday at their house. But I continue to host it for my children, who insist I keep doing it because it’s now our family tradition. It’s the least I can do for them. I’m very thankful for both of them because they made me a mother. I can’t imagine life without either of them.
I’m most thankful that both of them finally stepped up to the plate this year, helping me pull off this one-day extravaganza. My son picked up the folding tables and chairs at my mother’s house, and set them up for me. He and his sister lugged a very heavy table from the basement so we’d have a safe landing spot for everyone’s covered dishes.
My daughter set the tables, cleaned the kitchen and assembled cheese and fruit boards with her cousin Julia M. The Curmudgeon did supermarket, Walmart, package store and train station runs, sparing me the hassle of getting into the car. I might even go as far to say this was a pretty smooth operation. It’s only taken about 30 years to perfect it.
I think I won the contest for the biggest anticipated Thanksgiving crowd at the Marketplace in Guilford, CT., where I ordered two 23-pound Willy birds about three weeks ago. As I stood in line to pick up my birds, people began announcing modest numbers like 18 or 23. “Yea, I’ve got 36 people,” I said. “It’s making me tired just thinking about it.”
“You win!” one woman shouted.
“I guess,” I said.
“Wine, lots of wine,” she said.
“Oh, yea,” I said. “You know it.”
The guests arrived, toasted, nibbled, socialized, drank, ate, walked, cleared, cleaned and swiped. I did a celebratory dance in the kitchen with my sister Janet as my sister Marianne loaded the dishwasher. That is, until the bottom rack slipped out of the dishwasher, crashing onto the floor.
About six of us struggled to get the loaded rack back into the dishwasher. I swear it hasn’t been the same since I plowed into the open door holding sheet music for my son as he marched around our kitchen with his trombone. It’s been a little off-balance, kind of the way you feel after hosting Thanksgiving for so many people for so many years.
I’m tired, but I should be. I’m a lot older than when I began this gig 30 years ago, and there are a lot more mouths to feed. Hopefully, there will be more next year. It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve learned that the more the merrier. There’s a unique joy in coming together, in being part of a very large tribe. At the very least, there’s never a dull moment.
As I tossed and turned in bed, my son came into my room.
“Thanks for hosting it again,” he said. “I think this may have been the best one yet.”
“Did Dad tell you to come up here and say that?” I asked.