“Perfect” has different meanings to different people and in some cases perfect takes a lot of work. I learned from my grandmother that it doesn’t.
So often Matt and I get asked this scary question, “How do you create the PERFECT holiday?” Well, since hosting the annual Thanksgiving meal came to me by default, I’ll spread my sage advice to anyone else in the same predicament.
I suppose I should start by explaining why I say I host the meal “by default”. For years, in fact ever since I can remember, Thanksgiving was at my Grandmother’s house. The memories of those years are so thick; I can cut them with a knife. However, they are memories of lying around watching TV with the men of the family, and running around with my brother and cousin. Some years we chased the dog inside the house, and when the weather was nice, we went outside and explored the far reaches of their farm.
In those days, the meal appeared on the table every year in just the same way, tasting just like I remembered from the year before, and it all happened without me. (Pause for a minute here and just breathe in the aroma of that turkey and all the trimmings!) This lovely photo was taken by Kate Mathis and I found it at the Good Housekeeping website.
Then, suddenly, my Grandmother was gone, and for some unknown reason, Thanksgiving became my responsibility. One of these days I’m going to find out why Thanksgiving skipped a whole generation; at least my mom knew how to cook! Well, so many mistakes occurred those first few years, and I hate to admit how silly they were. First of all, I’m following my Grandmother’s recipes…. the few she actually wrote down, and I’m wondering where the amounts are? How much salt are you supposed to add to the stuffing if the recipe says, “salt”? And it wasn’t just salt that had no direction, it was every ingredient.
Fortunately, turkeys today come with instructions; in fact, they are pretty hard to mess up. So, after a couple of years, my Mom and I had it worked out. She made the mashed potatoes and I made the turkey and stuffing! But I had completely ignored the holiday decorations, the hors d’oeuvres, holiday activities, family photos, and everything else that my Grandmother was able to accomplish, making it look like no effort at all.
For the next few years, I concentrated on the décor. I started outside, making sure that when everyone arrived, they knew it was a special day. From hand painted harvest greetings to wheelbarrows of pumpkins and gourds, I had the entry to my home really decked out. I looked great, but not quite as cool as this entry photo with painted pumpkins I found at www.goodhousekeeping.com!
Inside the house was the same deal. I’d spend weeks getting the decorations just right from the dining table to the great room, with autumn inspired guest towels in the bathrooms.
My next project was to tackle the activities. I would set up a 500 piece puzzle on the extra table, enticing family to sit around and talk while building a beautiful fall scene together. I set cameras around the room for spontaneous family photographs that I thought I could have developed and then give as gifts at Christmas time.
At some point over the years, the hors d’oeuvres fell into place with recipes from friends or from magazines clippings and in the end, a couple of years ago, I thought I had finally created the PERFECT Thanksgiving. Well, it was exhausting and actually starting to make me look with a little bit of dread toward the coming holiday. Well, this year will be the thirty-second Thanksgiving I’ve done on my own. And guess what? Things are going to change.
I talked the whole perfect Thanksgiving out with my mother, and I discovered that much of what I thought had made my Grandmother’s Thanksgiving so wonderful, didn’t exist at all. I found out that the hors d’oeuvres were Ritz crackers and boiled shrimp with a cocktail sauce my Grandfather used to make. There weren’t any holiday decorations at all. There were no planned activities unless you call an evening of Robber’s Rummy a planned activity, and if pictures were taken, they were few and far between. I discovered that the excitement of being with my whole extended family, the joy of a holiday full of simple traditions, and just darn good food made with love was what I had really experienced as the PERFECT Thanksgiving.
That’s why this year it’s going to be different. I’m sticking with my Grandmother’s simple, but tried and true recipes. I’m going to try adding love to the ingredients, and I won’t have to see the amount in writing. I’ll have Ritz crackers and shrimp, and I’ll bring out a simple deck of cards once the table’s been cleared. I might get the chance this year to sit with my family during the day and run around chasing my brother. (He’s old now, I’m sure I can catch him.) And like my Grandmother, I’m not going to groan at the fact that I’m responsible for one of the most family oriented holidays of the year. I’m going to relish every moment of the day with my folks, my husband, my brother and all the kids.
It took me thirty years to figure out that my mother didn’t shirk her duties of Thanksgiving. She gave me an early gift that I might have this joy much longer than anticipated. This Thanksgiving I will be thankful for much, with only one regret – that it took me so long to realize how simple it is to have the PERFECT Thanksgiving.