There will be three fewer plates at Thanksgiving dinner this year. After years of expanding the family table to include first daughters-in-law, then grandchildren, our oldest son and his family have now decided to strike out on their own. It's a point every family reaches sometime. The kids grow up, start families, and before you know it, they want their own traditions. For a while, everyone comprises. Maybe one year, the young couple will spend Thanksgiving with the wife's family, Christmas with the husband's. Or if the in-laws live in the same city, they'll shuttle from one house to the next.
This latter arrangement can prove especially stressful.
"What's wrong, dear, I thought you liked my broccoli/rutabaga delight? I make it especially for you."
"No, Mom, it's just that I already ate three servings at Sandi's mother's. And, oh, by the way, I hope you didn't spend too much time baking rhubarb mincemeat pie, since I ate two slices of pumpkin pie less than an hour ago."
Or worse. "Mom, is there any way we can start dinner around 11 a.m.? We're supposed to be at Maria's house by 1:30, when they're having their meal, so that we can finish by 4:00 when everyone moves to Gloria's house. Or we could come over around 10 p.m., after we stop by Victor's place? Whatever is most convenient for you."
Of course, no matter what time you set for dinner, the turkey will not be ready when it's supposed to be. If you plan an early meal and get up at the crack of dawn to put the bird in the oven, it will still take at least an hour longer than planned. At which point, the mashed potatoes will have hardened into plaster, and the rolls will be burned to a crisp. If, however, the family's competing obligations make a late dinner advisable, be assured the turkey will be ready hours before anyone arrives. Your only choices will be to serve cold turkey or keep it in the oven until every last bit of moisture has evaporated.
Not that Thanksgiving was so simple when the guest list included only the kids themselves. When the boys were younger, I still had to compete with the NFL for a Thanksgiving dinner time slot. If I was lucky, the half-time show was lousy, so I might get their undivided attention for 10 or 15 minutes for a meal I'd slaved over for five or six hours. The worse nightmare, however, was when the Redskins played an early game and lost. Then the mood at the table more resembled a wake than a holiday, and not even my special jalapeno and marshmallow muffins could brighten the mood.
With two sons already married and one graduating college in just a few weeks, I suppose it's only a matter of time before the Thanksgiving table shrinks to just my husband and me. Will it be worth it standing over a hot stove all day cooking up a four-course gourmet repast when there are only two of us to enjoy it?
Some of our friends have taken to going out to a restaurant on Thanksgiving. I tried that one year when I was completing a book, but it wasn't the same. The food wasn't bad, but I was distracted throughout the meal trying to figure out why everyone else was there. Of course, they were probably wondering the same thing about me. The worse part was there were no leftovers, no sliced turkey for sandwiches for the next month, no cranberry mold to sit uneaten in the back of the refrigerator until Christmas. Somehow I don't see myself down at the Howard Johnson's every year, even after the kids have moved on.
Maybe it's time to take my talents down to the local homeless shelter. Do you suppose they'd let me make my special mushroom tofu stuffing?