To Nobody’s House We Go

Typically we go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Okay, that’s over the Mississippi and through Woodriver, Illinois, to Alton, where Jon’s mom’s apartment is, but you get the idea. Not this year. Taking the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and of Dr. Anthony Fauci, we have decided to spend Thanksgiving apart, safely distant from everyone.

We celebrated our first Thanksgiving nearly 20 years ago. We’ve gathered with Cliff’s family in the Houston area, and Jon’s family in the St. Louis area. We’ve spent Thanksgiving at Big Bend National Park and at our tiny apartment in Denton, where Jon was attending the University of North Texas. The Denton Thanksgiving was certainly our most memorable, because we weren’t planning on spending that holiday together.

Jon had to work a shift on the copy desk at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, so Cliff set off to join his family in Spring, Texas. But shortly after Cliff left, Jon realized that the keys to his car were in the console of Cliff’s truck, and the only way he could get to Fort Worth was if Cliff turned around and missed his family Thanksgiving. So Jon ran to the nearby grocery store and bought the only cooked turkey at the deli–a Cajun-spiced turkey breast–along with all the pre-made sides and fixings he could find. By the time Cliff arrived with Jon’s car keys, Jon had set the table with the impromptu feast, to Cliff’s utter amazement.

Over the years, the traditions we’ve created have become sacred rituals: preparing at least some part of the feast; setting the table with fresh flowers and lighted candles; watching a favorite holiday movie; posing for family photos. These traditions have helped anchor our moveable feast, reminding us that even though times and circumstances may change, the bonds of family remain.

This year, we’re spending the holiday at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island. We won’t be enjoying a Greenberg’s smoked turkey, as we have for the past several years. In early November, a fire at the company’s freezer buildings destroyed 87,000 turkeys and halted production. Instead, Chef Cliff is roasting a duck on the Big Green Egg. Like so many Americans, we are letting go of some traditions this year, hopeful that we can take them up again next year.

The sacrifice is not insignificant. The moments we have each year at this time with aging family members will be lost. Yet we know we must do our part to protect each other, and that we are not the only ones who have made this hard decision. The thought of our loved ones sitting at home, alone, with only a phone call or a text message to connect us to them, is difficult to bear. Yet it is the price we must pay if we are going to get beyond the pandemic.

Although we miss the many things that make Thanksgiving meaningful, we still have our most important tradition: taking time to count the many reasons we have to be grateful.

We’re grateful for all those people who have placed themselves at risk to keep things going, making deliveries and stocking shelves and picking up trash and keeping us safe. We’re grateful for all the healthcare workers who have struggled against exhaustion and despair to provide compassionate care despite the odds. We’re grateful for the teachers and students who have adapted to virtual learning and uncertainty with creativity and commitment. We’re grateful for the colleagues who have had to navigate childcare challenges and working from home, all while mastering new technologies. We’re grateful for the American spirit of determination: the unyielding belief that we can conquer the chaos of this moment because we’ve overcome great hardships before and we will do so again.

This year, as we gather together apart, we will remember the love and laughter that have sustained us these many years. Even though some of our traditions are on hold, we are confident that we will once again enjoy the presence of our loved ones, and, once more, recommit ourselves to caring for one another, come what may.