When I went to the gym yesterday, I asked the Lisa, a late 50s-ish woman at the front desk with whom I’ve chatted a bit, if she was cooking for Thanksgiving or other people were cooking for her.
She gave a wan smile. “Neither. It’s just me. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll probably pick up a rotisserie chicken.”
I felt embarrassed. I know she’s divorced but I don’t know how long ago. It would be very unusual for a woman of her generation in the South not to have kids, but I don’t know whether she does or doesn’t. If we were cooking for Thanksgiving, I’d have been tempted to ask her to join, but we’re going to a restaurant.
Thanksgiving is Lambert’s and Jerri-Lynn’s favorite holiday. Neither of them are doing the stereotypical big family gathering. Lambert is happy to have graduated to the large group of friends format; Jerri’s cooking with her hubby.
But even though Thanksgiving has only a pale shadow of the commercialization of Christmas, it still has a lot of baggage of normalcy around it…of a big happy family mini-reunion, a poultry-focused feast, and often, watching holiday-appropirate TV, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or football.
To confirm that I am not exaggerating with my interpretation, I Qwanted “Thanksgiving alone”. The first article that came up was 8 Delightful Ways to Have a Thanksgiving When You Are Alone at Morning Chores. The sugary headline is toothache-making. The article makes clear that “alone” is with her husband, but she still feels the absence of her mother-in-law, a matriarch who died recently.
I have to confess to not having warm associations with Thanksgiving. We moved a lot when I was a kid, so I repeatedly had just gotten to the point of having friends when we’d be uprooted. We saw very little of our extended family. The only occasions when we visited with any relatives over Thanksgiving were the two spells when we lived in Dayton and a couple of my mother’s aunts lived in Shaker Heights, a tony Cleveland suburb. We’d go see the aunt whose husband was the CEO of a coal company. It was always a tense affair because our hostess was strict about attire and manners. My mother was worried her brood would fall short and she’d get an earful later. The food wasn’t very good either. When just our immediate family did Thanksgiving, we always had a groaning board of the usual, and some not so usual, like rutabaga, but it never felt like a celebratory event.
The essence of what a good Thanksgiving ought to be about is conviviality, of spending time in a not-terribly structured way with people that are pleasant to be around, and with the holiday an excuse for having rich food and potables that almost force you into leisurely eating. For some people, their family is a good place to find or create that sort of event. And if unlike me, you have positive imprinting for a conventional Thanksgiving, not being with relatives, whether due to conflicting demands or frictions, is likely to be a downer.
One of my best Thanksgivings was pretty peculiar. In college, most kids lived nearby or flew home. A lot of the ones who didn’t would get themselves invited to a dinner with a family in the area. I didn’t think it was right to ask my parents to spring for a Thanksgiving flight; my two best friends came from families on the West Coast. So when I was between boyfriends, I’d be with the thin crew of students who were on campus during Thanksgiving.
When I was a senior, one of my friends, Willy, who was stranded on campus and I decided to rent a car to go to Maine and see my uncle Dick. I warned Willy that the house was pretty Spartan but Dick was an exceedingly nice man and we’d drive around and see the real Maine when tourists were gone and the winds were sharp. We didn’t know what to bring. We decided to show up with a six pack of beer and get him more provisions when we’d sussed out what he might need.
Cousin Fred, more accurately my father’s and Dick’s cousin who lived in a cabin on Dick’s land, dropped in shortly after we arrived. I didn’t know him well but quickly learned he was a nasty drunk and it took only two beers. He started haranguing both of us. After about 15 uncomfortable minutes, Willy and I exchanged looks. We stood up together and left. Dick was very apologetic and tried to persuade us to stay but we got into the car and drove back.
It was oddly exhilarating to walk out. Willy and I had a great time on the three hour ride back. And I’ve since learned as an adult that there aren’t many times you can abandon a bad situation and not have some loose ends, so this being such a surgical break was probably part of why it felt so liberating. So this was a good lesson, even if it didn’t map at all onto a normal Thanksgiving profile.
So if you are a Thanksgiving grinch, or would rather sleep in and see a movie or read a book than seek out company for the sake of not having to ‘splain that you spent Thanksgiving alone, I hope you find some accounts of solo or unconventional Thanksgivings in the comments section.