We don’t have a traditional Thanksgiving anymore. Almost everything about it has changed in recent years.
We had the turkey (marinated in a cat-litter bucket), and all the usual overindulgence. But it isn’t the same.
For years, Thanksgiving meant a grueling trip, driving to Kansas City to visit my parents.
We were living in South Carolina at the time and we would leave after work on Tuesday, drive six hours to Nashville and finish up with 11 hours Wednesday. Then after lunch on Saturday, we would reverse the plan, arriving home exhausted Sunday night.
We didn’t stay with my parents, though. For more than 20 years, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement complex with houses, apartments and nursing care for several thousand people. They loved the place, but Mom always grimaced when my father referred to it as “God’s holding pen.”
Instead, we would stay a few miles away with my sister, Donna, and her husband, Homer, in their sprawling two-story house with floor-to-ceiling windows providing a view of geese on a lake.
It’s one of those empty-nest houses where everything is in its place, as if awaiting the photographer from Better Homes and Gardens. My sister takes so much pride in her Thanksgiving menu that she attends cooking classes so her meal can be really special. Counting grandkids, great-grandkids, family friends and all, dinner for 18 or 20 was typical.
But that’s not the way it is anymore. My mother died in 2005, three years after my father, and the Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Kansas City faded away. Our children and grandchildren made other plans. I have a new job and don’t have many vacation days.
Instead, Donna and Homer came to our house in Florence, Ala., along with my nephew and his wife.
Jenny didn’t take any holiday cooking classes, and her menu doesn’t have unusual recipes with a bunch of hard-to-find ingredients.
We did manage to make Donna’s special turkey (yes, it’s good, and yes, it’s a family tradition to marinate it in a plastic cat-litter bucket.) The rest of the menu was the usual calorie-filled items—dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, some sweet-potato concoction and green beans smothered in cheese sauce. Oh, and a salad to make it all look a little more healthy, and lots of desserts to assure that it really isn’t.
The most unusual item was the gravy, made from a base that includes something or other from Williams-Sonoma that Donna brought with her. Everyone was polite about the fact that I prefer Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pies to homemade. And Cool Whip to whipped cream.
On Friday we all went to the movies to see “Blind Side,” about Michael Oher and his transition from the Memphis ghetto to football star at Ole Miss and now, the Baltimore Ravens. It was the perfect Thanksgiving movie.
The only thing missing from the weekend was the tradition of my Dad’s wisecracks and my Mom’s warmth, and the feeling when all the family used to be together.
There’s something to be said for gathering in Kansas City, just as we always used to do, and where my parents lived their lives and are buried.
Perhaps we’ll round up the family and get back to a traditional Kansas City Thanksgiving next year. It’s not really about the turkey, anyway.
T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.