When I was growing up, my dad used to quiz my brother and me: “Do you remember where we were one year ago today?” Then five years, and eventually ten years. Now, I can talk about doings of twenty years ago with decent recall, which makes me feel like I am aging and time is passing quickly.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I think it has been for a long time. I think this is somehow related to the fact that I don’t actually have a whole lot of specific memories of specific Thanksgivings. Thanksgiving is a lot of hanging out. Aside from that one year when the disposal backed up and Dad got sprayed with flecks of onion skin and what-have-you, most Thanksgivings exist in a vague haze of road races and fantastic food and relaxed family time.
Here are the standouts from my adult years, ranked from worst to best. And let me emphasize that even the one that bottoms out on this list still had great food and probably a few games of charades, followed by a trip to the mall the next day. I happen to have a pretty nice family, so even Thanksgiving at its most stressful just can’t get that far away from a good time.
5. My First Thanksgiving as a “Thin” Person (2005): Oh the joys of having lost 50 or so pounds since most people had last seen me! Oh, the greater joys of having to then openly scrutinize what you are eating and prove to everyone that you really are a Thin Person now, with Self Control! Weight Watchers, despite its good intentions, made pretty much every Thanksgiving from 2005 - 2012 about 50% less fun. This was also around the same time our family inaugurated the tradition of running a road race every Thanksgiving, so there was no shortage of Thanksgiving Runner Bingo. “You’ll have to run a marathon to burn this off!” Don’t I know it.
4. My First Thanksgiving Away from Home (2006): Italian Thanksgiving #1! I managed to find some turkey breasts at the store to cook in the oven so that we wouldn’t be totally turkey-less. They don’t really sell whole turkeys in Italy unless you go really far out of your way (see below) and frankly, I was kind of relieved because I had not yet acquired turkey-roasting skills. My Canadian roommate made a lasagna, and our various American and Italian friends brought side dishes. I made sure sage was prominently featured in the stuffing I made (even with no turkey, there must be stuffing) so that it would at least smell like Thanksgiving. We had 13 people squeezed into a kitchen that normally barely sat 4 at a time. Everyone sat in folding chairs or on the floor. It was cute, and we pulled it off. I was proud. I had hosted Thanksgiving. But then, I got on the phone with my family, all of whom were just about to sit down to their big beautiful turkey at a real table all together, and I cried. This was probably the most I missed them for the whole semester abroad.
3. My First Thanksgiving as a Mom (2015): You parents of littles who know holidays with littles can guess how fun this one was! Ros was almost 3 months old and adorable of course, but nursing was at its lowest point and I was (though I did not know it yet) a week away from completely breaking down and quitting. I also wanted desperately to participate in our by-then time-honored tradition of running a 4-mile race on Thanksgiving morning, and I managed a run-walk sort of thing while pushing Ros in a non-jogging stroller. My body was still busted as hell and it hurt to run 4 miles, and the hurting hurt my feelings. It was one of those days that seemed to unfold in slow motion. At times, it felt euphoric, like I was truly in a new phase in my life. My brother was visiting, and my best friend and her son had come for dinner. There were plenty of lovely people to help and to hold the baby, people who wanted to make my life easier. It was just one of those times when it became clear that no one could really help with the hardest parts of being a mom. I was so tired, and I missed how relaxing Thanksgiving had once been.
2. My First Thanksgiving Without Turkey Meat (2014): Also the first Florida Thanksgiving, this was the year when my husband and I looked at each other and said, “we’re in charge now, so how about we serve a meat that actually makes us excited?” We made a leg of lamb, stuffing, succotash, and probably some other things too. The succotash felt like an appropriate add-on given the locale, and it was, indeed, delicious. As for dessert, my husband, my brother and I had all run a race on Thanksgiving morning called Run4ThePies (and I still get emails from them every year hassling me me to sign up before it’s too late), in which the first 1000 finishers each win a whole 12-inch apple pies. Since I did not intend to bake my own, I had urged everyone to run as fast as they could, to ensure that we’d take home at least one pie. I’d looked at the finishing times from the previous year - I could probably run a fast enough time, but I sure couldn’t screw around! In the end, I took off like a shot and secured both a pie and my fastest four miles in years. That’s motivation for you, right there. We donated one of the pies, recalling that we would be having exactly four people at our Thanksgiving dinner, and we put one in the freezer for Christmas. The third one reheated nicely in the oven, and it was delicious.
1. My First Thanksgiving as a True American (2008): The Ferrara Thanksgiving of 2006 was an Italian Thanksgiving, but the Brescia Thanksgiving of 2008 was the Italian Thanksgiving. We had gone all out in our shopping and prep: the turkey had been ordered in advance from our chicken lady at the market. The smallest turkey, she’d informed us, was 6 kilos. Would that be okay? Sure hoped so. We were ready to do the works: an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, a six-kilo turkey, stuffing, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, salad. No expats this time: my then-boyfriend and I were about to undergo the first true test of our domestic compatibility: could we host a full-on Thanksgiving by ourselves, and could we get any Italians to come and to approve of our cooking? Initially, it seemed that we would fail in the latter endeavor. About 48 hours before Thanksgiving (but of course after the shopping and the prepping and the planning), our five guests from Milan cancelled. In a last-ditch effort to save face and prevent ourselves from sitting all alone at an overly-laden table, I asked the other English teachers at the school where I was working if they would like to come experience a real American Thanksgiving. Having vaguely talked about it to their students for years in an attempt to characterize American culture, a few of them agreed, curious and probably a little wary. And just like that, we hosted our very first Thanksgiving in our very first apartment together. We tied the turkey’s legs with dental floss to fit it in our tiny oven, and we pulled our tiny table out into the middle of our kitchen and fit five people around it. When the Italian left, praising the “pankin pie-ah” to high heaven, we were breathlessly exhausted and prouder of ourselves than I think we had ever been. And then we ate turkey soup for weeks.