Thanksgiving Prep and Related Thoughts (or, Light and Darkness)
Three weeks from today, I will host my first ever Thanksgiving dinner. Some of you might ask how I got through 24 years of post-collegiate adulthood without ever having had to cook dinner for a houseful of people. It was simple: I had an apartment that couldn’t accommodate more than three people at the table.
Now that I’m a homeowner, I have a dining room table that can seat six, plus a folding table that I can set up on the other side of the living room-dining room doorway for four more. Using all my fingers, I realized that I could have the Den Son, the Den Parents, and the Den Brother’s family, and still have one spot left for a friend who might have nowhere else to go for the holiday. That realization triggered a moment of delirium in which I announced that Thanksgiving 2011 would be at my house.
Planning a big holiday dinner isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In recent years, I have taken on an ever greater share of the cooking at my mother’s house; last year, I did everything except the turkey itself, plus all the setting up and cleaning up. My mother insisted on holding on to the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. I made my award-winning spiced pumpkin cheesecake, but we ordered the pies from a bakery.
But I can’t very well have someone else roasting a turkey in my kitchen. So my order is in for a 16-pound fresh turkey from Bob’s Turkey Farm of Lancaster, Massachusetts. I spent this evening going through recipes for vegetables of many colors, flavors, and textures (just to make it interesting) and even found a cornbread and fruit stuffing recipe that, if it tastes as good as the recipe sounds, I will adopt as my own for future years. The pumpkin cheesecake will be there, as will apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies from DMM, who insisted she could do that much, and of course I agreed. She makes great pies.
As any gracious host or hostess knows, there is more to entertaining than merely food and drink. The atmosphere is important, too. That’s why this weekend, nine months after I moved, I will paint my living room and dining room. And if anyone decides to help, maybe the family room, too. No more spackled holes in the walls, no more artwork and knickknacks shelves and clocks lying around waiting to be hung, no more paint chips taped up to show visitors what it’s going to look like eventually. I even got an accent chair to fill the space in the living room that’s been waiting for just the right piece.
Most importantly, the fireplace is ready to go. I’ve been saving old newspapers in my cellar for fire starting, gathering twigs and sawing fallen branches for tinder and kindling, and amassing a neat stack of split firewood in the garage. By the time I got all the boxes cleared out of my living room after the move and got my new furniture, it was well into spring and too late to use the fireplace, so this will be its maiden voyage, so to speak, unless I decide to give it a test run before then.
It’s natural around this time, at least for me, to start thinking about things for which I am thankful. The list is long; my life isn’t perfect, but I am fortunate in many ways. My family, health, and home are at the top of the list. I have wonderful friends. I have a job that I don’t particularly like, but it’s more than a lot of people can say right now. Yet despite—or maybe because off—my many blessings, the lone dark spot seems particularly obvious.
Why is it that matters of the heart manage to color everything else? I remember a time, not all that long ago, when my happiness made the whole world seem more beautiful. Now everything is drearier. Every social occasion reminds me of someone I wish were there but isn’t. Good news is blunted by the absence of the one person I most want to share it with, and burdens feel heavier without the sounding board I used to have. Mostly, I’m just lonely. I wish I could be satisfied with a substitute.
Fourteen months of this, with precious few bright spots, and no end in sight. You’d think it would get better. I wonder if I’m supposed to find comfort in knowing that, since I’ve survived a broken heart before, chances are that I’ll be able to do so again.
The January selection for my quarterly book group is a series of books collectively called The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The three books—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay—were written as “Young Adult” fiction but, much like the Harry Potter books, appeal to older people as well. I’ve already finished the series even before almost anyone else in the group has started. The ending of the third book gives me something to hang onto. The protagonist is trying to rebuild her life after a series of monumental physical, mental, and emotional trials.
What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.
[ . . . ]
That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
But there are much worse games to play.
I guess that’s what I’ll try to do, too. Maybe Thanksgiving will help.