Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! I see from my Facebook feed that I am a member of a large group of people who consider Thanksgiving to be their favourite holiday! I enjoy it for so many reasons, not least of which is that it’s the start of a fabulous season!
Historically, my Thanksgivings have been filled with hysterical activity: running to and fro, sending someone to the store for… “Ack, I forgot butter!!! How could I have forgotten butter?! You there! YOU sitting all comfy/cosy on that chair: we MUST HAVE BUTTER!! Oh, and while you’re at it, could you pick up some….”
My regular guests were used to these last-minute chores. They never complained, though, but always took my (frequently imperious) commands with the sense of humour that the day warranted.
I gave my first Homeless Thanksgiving in the early 80s when I was in my late teens. I was a bartender in Georgetown (DC), and I didn’t have any family around. I was surrounded by good people who also didn’t have family around, and I thought to myself: well, Self, you can sit by yerself and mope, or by golly, you can make some whoopee!!!
Being my grandmother’s daughter (as my mom always says), I opted for the latter! I mean, really: when it comes right down to it, WHOOPIE is ever so much more fun than moping, yes?
Grandma at 19
I invited my fellow bartenders, waitrons, busboys, and even a couple of lonely bar regulars to my tiny apartment. I cooked up a traditional family Thanksgiving, and we had a grand old time starting what would become a regular fête chez moi for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes, guests would bring wine, but it wasn’t expected and I just enjoyed the company!
I should probably explain “traditional” here. I was raised in some interesting tropical countries. You may not realise that turkeys in the tropics are most noticeable for their absence. So in my family, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is (of course!) lasagna!
The first Thanksgiving meal that I remember was in Laos. I remember it quite clearly because I had fallen off of my bicycle the day before on a steep hill. I fell on my lip, apparently, which split, making it possible but excruciating for me to eat my favourite part of the meal, the salad with a vinaigrette! The lasagna and requisite garlic bread were sadly missed, but OH, to this day, I remember pining for that salad!
(Lettuce being a cold-weather plant, Laos not being that cold, lettuce being a scarce treat….)
So: lasagna. Using my grandmother’s marinara sauce, and her meatballs (ohhh, so good!).
Garlic bread, and a simple salad (lemon vinaigrette).
Wine, of course.
That first Thanksgiving in Georgetown was the kick-off for an annual ritual at Thanksgiving and Christmas that I have always looked forward to. I generally do a traditional turkey dinner for one of the holidays, lasagna for the other. Sometimes crabs for Thanksgiving in true San Francisco style.
There are an unfortunate number of people out in the world today who for years were sure that lasagna was the traditional American way to celebrate Thanksgiving! I had a letter from a law school classmate after she returned to her home country. She had confused and then amused a number of people with tales of her “traditional lasagna Thanksgivings” in North Carolina. Her friends who knew better thought it might have been a regional peculiarity, but she eventually figured it out!
My last Homeless Thanksgiving (and Homeless Christmas) was the year before we moved to California from DC. The few friends I’ve made in California have all had their own family affairs, which is wonderful for them, but I do miss cooking for a herd, and I miss the friendships that grew out of my twisted interpretation of “traditional.”
I have few pictures from these times, but I do have the sweet memories in my mind’s eye, and really, that’s even better.
All of these Thanksgivings past, I have been so busy cooking, laughing, crying, eating, drinking, and just sharing, that I haven’t had the time to sit and contemplate. It wasn’t necessary, really, since being thankful for everyday life has always been just a by-product of breathing to me, and these get-togethers were all thanksgiving enough for me.
This Thanksgiving, though, is my second one on my own, and I have had the time for gentle contemplation.