Worst Thanksgiving wasn't really so bad, after all


November 26, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

The son living in Japan called a few nights ago. "How long does it take to roast a 12-pound turkey and how do you make gravy?" he wanted to know.

That was the easy question.

The difficult question followed: "When do you think we'll all be together again on Thanksgiving for dinner?" He sounded wistful. Maybe even a little homesick.

It has been three years since the whole family gathered around one Thanksgiving table. Which, in my view, is exactly three years too many.

But as children grow up and the river of family separates into tributaries, each flowing in its own direction, it gets harder and harder to assemble everyone in the same place at the same time.

The son in Japan will celebrate Thanksgiving this year with a group of about 50 American and Japanese friends. You might say it's becoming a tradition: They buy two 12-pound turkeys -- at a cost of $240 -- and gather on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Although this means each person only gets one small serving of turkey, the son says it's definitely worthwhile. "Being away from home on Thanksgiving," he said, "is just as bad as not being there on Christmas."

The other son will be spending his day in a physics lab in Colorado, trying to catch up on work toward his graduate degree. I've sent him a pecan pie, his favorite, and some homemade cranberry jelly. But knowing him, the odds are he won't even remember it's Thanksgiving.

Until I call to remind him.

When they were growing up, the sons always wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner at home. And they always wanted exactly the same menu. No fancy stuffings or strange cranberry sauce or any pie other than pecan.

And usually that's exactly how the day went.

Except for the year my two sons and I found ourselves -- for difficult reasons that no longer matter -- eating Thanksgiving dinner at a Holiday Inn, far away from family and friends.

At the time the older son was 9; the younger, 6. Neither was thrilled to find himself in a strange restaurant -- and a revolving one at that -- on what had always been a family day at home.

And I was as unhappy about it as they were.

It was a day in which we were all just killing time. And getting on one another's nerves.

We'd spent the early afternoon seeing a movie called "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." It starred Angela Lansbury and, as I recall, had something to do with witchcraft and Nazis and a flying bed. We all hated it. Which was the only thing the three of us had agreed on that day.

Thanksgiving dinner, which took place in a revolving restaurant on the top floor of the Holiday Inn -- was a disaster.

First of all, one of my sons claimed to be motion sick and the other said he couldn't eat at that altitude because he was afraid of heights. This is the same son, incidentally, who now spends much of his free time climbing mountains and scaling rocks.

But, of course, our unhappiness had nothing to do with the

Holiday Inn or motion or heights. We were all just angry -- and afraid, too. Angry that things were not exactly what they had been and afraid they might never be that way again. So we did what all normal families do: We tried to cope by annoying each other. That, at least, was familiar.

As I remember it, most of our conversation at that Thanksgiving dinner revolved around what was worse: the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes, the gravy, the pumpkin pie or the water that didn't taste like the water back home.

Which, of course, is where we all wanted to be.

For years I thought of that Thanksgiving as the worst I'd ever spent. In fact, it became a family joke: "Better do what Mom says or she'll make us have Thanksgiving dinner at the Holiday Inn again."

But lately I've come to realize that I was wrong.

Now I understand that because my sons and I were together that Thanksgiving, we were at home. And now I look back and see the day as a good example of what makes a family a family: the ability to express anger and frustration toward one another without fear of losing one another's love.

Now, I look almost with longing at that "worst" Thanksgiving I ever spent. I guess I've finally learned the lesson we all come to understand slowly: That we don't know how good a time it is we're living in until it's part of the past.

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