Our family Thanksgiving tradition is so tied to Auntie Nancy's house that you call her place "Thanksgiving." We've been making the pilgrimage to New York for 15 years, and we all eagerly anticipate the time together with Dad's side of the family.
Auntie Nan is a cook par excellance.
Her Italian sausage stuffing is a meal in and of itself. The bakery-worthy apple and pumpkin pies aren't reserved for dessert, we eat them for breakfast! And no one can roast a bird like Aunt Nan. Even the Wednesday night dinner is a treat: Pasta with bolognese sauce, or a mouth-watering pot roast. And always the salad. She's the one who got me hooked on homemade dressings years ago. This year was a Maple Shallot vinaigrette. Yum. She doesn't shy away from pumping out "football snacks" all day, even though we're working hard on the big meal. Crab dip, Reubens, nuts, and charcuterie boards quickly fill one of the kitchen islands.
The McQ home is a showpiece, but as warm and welcoming as their hugs.
As a little girl, you loved staying in the Pink room with it's profusion of antique lace and teddy bears. You had your own t.v. and watched the newest "Barbie" movie each Thanksgiving morning. This year you graduated to the basement suites with the big kids. You've set up a home for one doll under the ping-pong table and another home underneath the pool table, blissfully unaware of the cutthroat competition going on over your head. The basement freezer is stocked with kid-friendly snacks, and you all overindulge. I love the kitchen with it's double (25 sq feet!) islands and ovens where we can all work without bumping into each other. By mid-morning one of the islands has turned into "snack central" as everyone becomes immersed in the football pre-game shows. Tom & Nan designed their house with company in mind, so we all enjoy private rooms and bathrooms, full access to the laundry room, and plenty of places to hang out and enjoy each others' company.
The thing we look forward to the most, of course, is family.
Auntie Nan has the heart of a mother and a sassy sense of humor that keeps even Uncle Tom in check. Dad's four cousins and their families fill out the roster, and sometimes another Auntie or two has even been known to show up for the fun. Auntie Linda, "the breakfast lady," pumps out short order breakfasts for those not indulging in pie and brews a pot of coffee that could fuel a fighter jet. Uncle Pat, an accomplished chef, shows up mid-morning for more hugs and adds his flair to Thanksgiving Dinner, too. We chatter like magpies all day, catching up on a year's worth of fun, trials, and trips abroad.
I've written this letter to rekindle some of your sweetest childhood memories, but there's an important lesson here, too:
Your husband's family, and all their quirky traditions, need to be incorporated into your life.
Thanksgiving at Grammy and Gugga's was my favorite holiday. We had our traditional foods -- from pre-meal snacks to the luscious cinnamon rolls that accompanied the enormous bird. We'd fold napkins into a lotus and fill them with mixed nuts and butter mints to set at each place. My mom made my grammy's "Graham Cracker Pie" each year. It was a day to enjoy my Mom and sister's company as we cooked the meal and laughed and joked together. We had a standing family joke where we would hand my persnickety step-grandmother a cup of eggnog, and she would smack a sip of it and declare in disgust: "There's RUM in it!"
The first year we decided to go to Aunt Nan's, I nearly died. I couldn't imagine a Thanksgiving anywhere but my own "home". When we walked in the front double doors and realized we could fit our entire house, including the roof, into their foyer, my knees nearly buckled. There wasn't a single familiar food, except the turkey. No Chex Mix. No egg nog. No nut cups. No cinnamon rolls. They ate weird things like crab dip and creamed peas with onions. But I loved your Dad, and I grew to love his warm, loud, Irish family as deeply as my own. I even like crab dip and creamed peas, now. . .imagine that!
When I was pregnant with you, I mentioned off-hand that I missed the eggnog my family had out at Thanksgiving. Uncle Pat, with a heart as big as the Adirondacks, went out and bought 3 gallons. Auntie Nan has bought it every year since. Over the years I've brought an assortment of favorite pies, and even made nut cups. Auntie Nancy's heart makes it home, no matter what is on the table.
I can't imagine spending Thanksgiving anywhere else, although the realtor's sign in the front woods reminds me that they will be downsizing soon. We'll take a walk together later today and make fun of the Parthenon, Versailles, and Irish castle wannabe's dotting their street. The house so big we call it the Best Western will make us laugh at least one more time.
The second cousins, all adolescents when we first started coming, are now spreading their wings. One is studying to become an opera singer. Another is pursuing an appointment as an officer in the Armed services. The little girl who poured Tabasco over her turkey is now a fashionista. It's hard to believe how quickly time passes, and how precious this tradition has become to my heart.
Don't pass up the riches of your in-laws home and family because you are clinging so tightly to your own. Not only will you bless your husband and children, you'll be richly rewarded, too!
I love you, my little turkey,