On every Thanksgiving that I can remember, from childhood until parenthood, we travel to spend time with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. It is a beloved, if somewhat exhausting, day of renewing ties.
This year was very different.
With some of our dearest loved ones in high-risk groups among the potential guests, the big family get-togethers with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins were canceled.
Our little five-person family stayed home for the first time ever on Thanksgiving.
My wife, Sarah, saw this coming and threw herself into planning a home Thanksgiving feast, complete with an enormous turkey and all the trimmings, with everything but the rolls homemade from scratch.
Honestly, it seemed a little much for just the few of us at home, but after 19 years of marriage, I’m finally starting to get smart. I’ve learned that sometimes — just occasionally, you understand! — my first response to an idea might be slightly off base. And so I kept my doubts in check and offered support as my wife and children put together the full multi-day plan of attack for a successful Thanksgiving meal.
Time proved them right, and made me thankful for my decision to swallow my doubts.
The preparation started many days earlier, when we pulled the rock-solid bird out of the freezer and put it in the basement refrigerator to thaw, then cut up bread to dry for stuffing.
Sarah even showed the kids how to make butter by putting cream into a jar and shaking it — and why not add some honey along the way?
The best part was on the day of Thanksgiving Eve, when my two youngest kids took it upon themselves to make the pies for dessert.
I was enlisted as a baker’s assistant. I peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples (a harvest gift from our neighbor, who delivered them a few weeks ago in the bucket of his tractor.) Our 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son made the dough, added the flavors, and created a pair of delicious apple and pumpkin pies.
We arose early on Thanksgiving day to prepare the turkey and put it in the oven. The kitchen was a well-orchestrated symphony of smells and flavors; a highly choreographed ballet of preparation and timing.
There was stuffing to create, mixing broth and spices with dried bread in the Crockpot.
There were frozen cranberries to slowly bring up to heat. We all delighted in gathering together to hear them “pop” into sauce. I kept tasting and tasting it throughout the morning, making everyone glad we had made a double batch.
There were garlic and herbs (pronounced with the hard “H”) to mix with the butter to glaze the turkey, a job my youngest took on with dedication.
There was the sweet potato casserole, which our daughter took on as her own special project: “My masterpiece,” she called it.
I had thought a day of cooking and baking would be a chore. It was actually a delight. We joked and laughed. We cooperated and congratulated. Sarah taught and the kids learned (as did I). There were mistakes, which we ate.
“The moral of the story comes down to choices — how we respond to our circumstances,” Sarah told me about our take on holiday limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Her organization and invitation to enjoy was a real gift of Thanksgiving, and our choice to respond by jumping in to create alongside her was a cause for much rejoicing — especially when we sat down together at our little table, decorated with our finest tablecloth and dishes.
As we said grace, passed the platters, complimented the chefs and enjoyed our meal together, I realized something.
In years ahead, when our children are grown, perhaps with families and kids of their own, we will probably make plans to come back together across the years for a Thanksgiving meal together. Like our busy day in the kitchen, it will be its own orchestration of travel and timing.
On those future somedays, as we gather over the miles and years, it will be the feelings of this simple day together on a sunny November, locked down in a pandemic, that we will try forever to recapture.
Brian Mittge is thankful to his Creator for simple gifts and bountiful blessings, including a refrigerator full of leftovers. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org about your lockdown Thanksgiving.