Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020

Too lofty a title?

I just want to talk about how Thanksgiving went for us this year. And, curious how it went for you.

One aspect I imagine we all share: this Thanksgiving, 2020, was different from any we’ve had before. But how, what did we miss the most? This might vary a bit. Here’s my story.

Thanksgiving this year would be our sponsee “Jeff’s” first American Thanksgiving. (Don’t recall “Jeff?” You first met him HERE in October.) I recalled how eagerly my colleagues in Kazakhstan wanted to share their culture and customs with us when we lived there; I wanted to offer “Jeff” the same.

I loved doing it. I loved spreading my fall decorations around the house. I loved cooking. I even loved making the gravy. The turkey legs we roasted instead of a full turkey didn’t give off the needed fat for the gravy, and I was tickled to remembered I’d frozen last month’s goose fat in little muffin size portions.

Since moving to Vermont — too far for my two Ohio-based sons to join us here in the woods (and over the river) for a weekend — Woody, my mom, and I (and Sasha too) have generally gone west. At son Jon’s house, we are usually joined by my other son, their extended families (and dogs), a few neighbors, and my sons’ father and his wife: twelve to fifteen adults plus assorted children.

We eat the standard fare, learn something new, try to come up with an entertaining “gratitude” as we go around the table, and play “bite the bag” at day’s end. In between, I spar a bit (good naturedly, I believe) with the former spouse.

We eat too much; we smile a lot; we strive to stay civil; we appear interested even when we are not. And, though we look forward to doing it all again in a year, we are also grateful Thanksgiving does not come more often, even though it’s my favorite holiday.

Here I am stirring my gravy with Frank’s baked pineapple to my left.

This year, I know exactly what I missed the most. Something I’d taken for granted, too.

Why is it we miss most those things we’ve never really appreciated until they are gone?

I liked making the various side dishes too and am grateful to those of you who submitted recipes. “How Thanksgivingee,” says Woody.

Here in Vermont, we four gathered together, separated by eight to ten feet and, because we’d taken off our masks (how else to eat?), we ate in silence. We had to. CoVid travels on air particles, and talking propels them out more urgently. It’s even worse if we sing.

Why such precautions, you might ask?

Our sponsee “Jeff” works in one of those “anti-mask” cultures that we’ve decided will not change. So, though he wears a mask at work all day (the only one to do so), we must treat him as though he’s an asymptomatic positive case. I imagine it’s as hard on him as it is on us, though he wouldn’t complain even if he wanted to, which I don’t believe he does though I sometimes wish he would.

Here’s the scene from the small table where Woody and I sat, my mom off to the right, “Jeff” in his regular seat on the left.

“Jeff” lives his life in a kind of limbo at the moment. He knows it’ll be another two years until we’ll know what his future holds. (Have I written about the scandalous backlog of the immigration courts? I should.)

Though, as I write this, I wonder if that’s not something each of us could say, if we got down to it. I mean, really, who among us knows what the future holds for us? We don’t. That’s what makes investing in the stock market or buying insurance so difficult. And long term health insurance? Don’t get me started! But I digress.

Back to Thanksgiving

We set the food out like a buffet — a very short buffet — Woody sang a Jewish prayer, we sat down at our respective tables with our plates, and removed our masks.

The silence that permeated the room colored everything else for me. Even the Sirius XM background music could not fill the void I felt.

I missed conversation. I don’t mean I missed scintillating conversation, much harder to find than I once realized. I missed just plain old conversation, the background hum, and the choice (I never realized I had) to join in or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a “must-fill-up-the-silence” sort of person. I enjoy eating my breakfast in actual silence (no music either) each morning. And, I don’t mind eating alone in a restaurant (pre-CoVid, of course) or at home. I often welcome silence. But Thanksgiving, I began to realize, is also about chatter, catching up, communicating. I love the hum in the room that comes when there are many conversations going at one time. And this year I missed that hum.

I miss hugging too; I’ve written about that before. I miss shaking hands when an agreement has just been reached, like when we renegotiated our car lease this past week. But not being able to hug or shake hands is a momentary gut punch. This silence at the table lasted, well, as long as it takes to eat a Thanksgiving Day dinner. How long did yours take this year?

Thanksgiving, I realized for the first time, is as much about the conversation, the camaraderie, the catching-up, the communication, and yes, the chaos, as it is about the food. And this year, we had no conversation, no catching-up, no chaos. And no after dinner games.

We did, however, have dessert. Quietly.

All I could think of was, “Wait until next year. I will show you a real Thanksgiving.”

How about you? How was your Thanksgiving? What did you miss the most?

14 Responses

  1. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    We are a big noisy family too and I would miss the conversation. Did you try the zucchini dish?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That recipe is safely stored for summer months, Darlene. As looked at it (I love zucchini) I realized it’s a cold dish. I really needed hot here. AND, in an earlier draft of this post, I’d mentioned the various suggestions that had come in. But, the editing process being what it is, that was one digression that I took out. Stay tuned. It will be part of either my Memorial Day festivities or, if we’re not socializing yet, an Independence Day gathering. Surely by July life will have settled out a bit. Surely?
      Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

      • Darlene Foster
        | Reply

        It is a good recipe to use at any time! I will make it for Christmas as I like a couple of room temp dishes that I can make ahead and I don’t usually make a salad. I´m sure your meal was amazing!!

  2. Merril D Smith
    | Reply

    Thanksgiving was definitely different this year. I’ve written about it some posts. I missed being with my family–we saw one daughter outside for a pre-Thanksgiving snack. I made a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us. We did a Zoom call with siblings, then our usual Friday night dinner Zoom call with daughters.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You use Zoom with your family more than I do, Merril. I do Facetime with individual ones, but we don’t seem to do group gatherings. I’ll have to explore that. Happy Holidays.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

  3. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I put a Thanksgiving photo of our twosome around a bare-ish table: maybe we lit candles. I don’t remember, but like many of us I missed the hustle and bustle of 20+ relatives and 2 tables at right angles in my daughter’s sunroom. It didn’t feel as bleak as it might have because we believe 2021 will be different – and better – with a vaccine just around the corner. Still, we had a lot to be thankful for, including the fact we are (still) healthy.
    Marian Beaman recently posted…10 Life Lessons from the QueenMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, I never before realized I enjoyed that hustle and bustle. How nice for us we are able to be resilient in these times, huh Marian? I envy you your enthusiasm for the vaccine; I’m afraid I’m not there yet.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

  4. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    I must ask: What is ‘bite the bag’?
    Terri Lyon recently posted…The Best Gifts for ChangemakersMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Ha ha. It’s a great game, for agile folks. It takes only one brown paper grocery bag and a pair of scissors. Place the open bag in the center of the room. In order of age, one at a time, you stand on one leg, bend over and pick the bag up with your teeth. No hands; no standing on two legs. When everyone has had their turn, someone takes the scissors and cuts off the top inch from the bag. And it all goes again. If someone puts their other leg down or if their hands touch the bag or the ground, they are out. It keeps going until the last one! I was able to play until about 15 years ago. (Yes, the kids are generally better at this game than the oldies). One year, the bag wound up about four inches high! That was fun.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

  5. Susan Jane Jackson
    | Reply

    Thanksgiving, when was that!!We usually go to my son’s house as his girlfriend is Italian and they have about 25 people over for dinner. His girlfriend has finally stopped crying about not seeing her boys and grandkids–my son is so ill that he is hi risk and one of the families doesn’t do vaccinations although they say they are doing covid or they will never see their mom again because of my son. my husband doesn’t like Turkey so I don’t even remember what we ate. I guess for Christmas i will have steak and Lew will have a hamburg–he loves them

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      There have been plenty of years when that’s what I might have preferred, too, Susan. May you and yours stay safe this holiday season and May your son’s girlfriend’s family see the light. How sad that is. A little compassion goes a long way these days and often makes all the difference. May they find some.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

  6. Bette A Stevens
    | Reply

    Missed the family being together face-to-face… BUT, we’re looking forward to Real Face Time next year. THANKFUL for digital gatherings of all sorts… Next best thing to the real thing! 🙂 Wishing everyone a blessed and beautiful Christmas Season even if you’re gathering together online this year. <3

  7. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Thanks Bette. I’ve noticed I’m welcoming early Christmas lights and decorations this year, something I usually give a bah humbug to, finding I need that old Christmas spirit more than ever. I’m even making Christmas cookies again! May the Christmas spirit reign supreme, and lead us into a healthier and happier new year.
    Janet Givens recently posted…Deconstructing Thanksgiving 2020My Profile

  8. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    I’m playing catch up today on your blog posts. Since I don’t receive an e-mail alerting me to your new posts, I’ve gotten lazy about looking for them. There’s so much about cyberspace I don’t understand. LOL! I’ll try to do better.

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