Holidays Without You
We could barely taste the dirt on the turkey from the old linoleum floor. It was the first Thanksgiving without my Pappy and things were a mess. He did everything, cooked and carved the turkey, peeled and cooked the vegetables and of course got in my Grammy’s way of making desserts. Our first attempt at Thanksgiving without him is one that we will always remember.
My Pappy was a fantastic cook. He could make anything out of nothing. Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday with him because I got to stay over his house and help him cook in the morning. I was ten when he passed, so the times when we were cooking together always happened when I was small. He would always let me peel potatoes and carrots. I would pull a kitchen chair over to the counter, climb on top of it and await my instructions. Pappy hands me the peeler, it was all metal and flimsy (I have it in my kitchen at home now) and a potato. “Get peeling kid!” he would tell me. I would take my time and try to get every inch of peeling off of the potato. At the time I thought I was the best potato and carrot peeler in the world. Now, I realize I would get one small potato peeled in the time that he did ten. Cutting the potatoes was fun too. He could dice them up and then I got to throw the pieces into the pot. We would peel and cut carrots, celery, and other vegetables next. We would never peel the vegetables over the trash. The vegetable peelings were put into shopping bags and saved for the next morning when my Pappy would take them into the woods to feed the deer. We still do it. I was peeling carrots and he turned and looked at me “What are you doing, Steph? Peeling carrots for next Thanksgiving! Let’s go slow poke!” I think of it every time I peel vegetables and laugh. What a guy.
The dirty turkey Thanksgiving, I did not stay overnight at their house. It just didn’t feel right. My mom made sure to let me know that it was my choice if I wanted to stay with my Grammy that year and I just didn’t want to. I can’t explain why; I just didn’t want to. I wasn’t part of making dinner that year, maybe that’s why we had dirty linoleum turkey, who knows! Anyway, when my parents and I arrived at my Grammy’s house everything seemed to be going pretty well. “The turkey made it into the oven!” my Grammy exclaimed. She then showed me everything in the kitchen, including the mashed potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Soon after we arrived, my Aunt Linda came in. She was so excited to tell all of us that she watched the Thanksgiving Special on “Emeril” and knew exactly how to cut the turkey. I was expected some sort of “BAM!” to happen but, nothing like this.
When it was time to take the turkey out of the oven my Aunt Linda and Grammy insisted that they could pick it up on their own so, everyone let them to it. It turns out, the turkey lifting was a lot harder than they thought. The turkey made it out of the oven, but its transition from roaster to plate was a little rocky. And by rocky I mean, it ended up on the kitchen floor. “God Damn it, Betty Lou!” I could hear my Pappy yelling at her from above, “What are you doing?” He would’ve been a mixture of red-faced anger and belly-laughs.
Judging by the scream from the two turkey-droppers in the kitchen you would think someone was murdered. Naturally everyone came flying into the kitchen to see our beloved bird flopped on the floor. “Pick it up!” my Aunt was screaming. They did. “Can we even eat it now?” was the more important question to me. I don’t know if I approve of Mahanoy City shoe dirt on my Thanksgiving turkey. Not at all influenced by my disgust, my Grammy cleaned off the turkey the best that she could, my Aunt did her best Emeril “Bamming!” on our turkey and it was eaten off our plates on that Thanksgiving meal.
We struggled through our first big family meal without my Pappy. I would say without a doubt that it was just as good as it was the years before (if you didn’t know that the turkey spent a few moments on the floor). I like to look at the floor turkey as a beautiful mistake. Sure, our guy had some time on the ground, but it is something I will never forget. It made the day memorable and not only in a sad way. We can always remember our first holidays without family members as sad and grieving, but we can remember ours with a chuckle and a smile.
It has been ten years since we lost him. And in those ten years a lot has changed in our family. We have grown, accepting two new cousins through marriage, and three new babies. My Aunt Linda is now a Nana and my Grammy is a Great-Grandma. All of the grandchildren are graduated high school and are in college. And with all of this growth and change in our family our traditions are changing too.
Thanksgiving is no longer held at my Grammy and Pappy’s house, my Aunt Linda took over. Her biggest boost is that my Uncle paid for a brand new kitchen for her and it has a dishwasher so we don’t have to spend hours washing all of the dishes from dinner. Since we have a bigger family, we have bigger meals including two turkeys. We have to set up an extra table because there is not enough room for all of us to sit around the one table. We squeeze together and bump elbows and annoy each other until someone moves from the table. There is all new entertainment in the kids, they run around bumping into everyone and get in the way. They complain all through dinner because the turkey is cold, the gravy looks funny, and the potatoes are too hot. Anything to get off that chair and run around.
(Andrew and Christa)
Our newest addition to the family, Andrew sported his turkey bib last year for his first Thanksgiving. It is a joy to welcome new additions to our family. I love seeing them grow and change, just like our family does. They pitter patter of their feet running all around, their giggles and smiles, and the absolute joy that they bring (even through the tantrums) is one of the things I look forward to most about holidays now. Through all of our growth though no one has ever forgotten my Pappy. We share stories about him when we get together, make sure to pray for him when we say grace, and share pictures with the great-grandchildren of their Great-Grandpa. Our tradition is changing drastically this year. My Aunt Linda and Uncle Jimmy are not having Thanksgiving at their house. My cousin Christa is taking over and there is only so much room at their table. My Grammy and my family (mom, dad, and I) are not included in their Thanksgiving dinner. We will be having dinner on our own. Also included in dinner with us will be my Grammy’s new boyfriend. It will be different, way different. No fighting over who is the way of the kitchen, no pitter patter of little feet, a lot less laughter, stories, and memories. We won’t be taking those awkward family photos where no one is looking at the camera…
(Kenneth, Alec, Savannah, Sean, and I)
And all of that is okay. Traditions change, families grow, and sometimes drift apart. We are a big family, yes. And we are made up of smaller families all put together, at some point we have to celebrate our holidays without each other and start new traditions.
Update: We had Thanksgiving dinner with just my family, Grammy, and her boyfriend (Lowell) and it was wonderful! My mom, dad, and I went up early so we could help my Grammy cook and when Lowell came, he and my dad watched football and waited for dinner. Of course, there had to be some turkey-related incident but it is not what you’re thinking. This time, it was that no one felt comfortable enough to cut the turkey. First we asked the men and in was a unanimous “NO!” from both of them, my Grammy didn’t know how, and my mom said she would probably cut her finger off. The only one left to do it was me. I butchered the poor turkey, but we had plenty on the plate to eat and none on the floor! So, I would call that a success! It looks like I wouldn’t do too bad making a Thanksgiving meal on my own. Maybe that’s the point of all of this, it’s all preparation: peeling potatoes as a kid, seeing the great meal that comes out of a disaster, and cutting a turkey on my own it’s all setting me up to mold new traditions for the future.