When we were kids, we would start Thanksgiving at Sister’s house in Eminence, Indiana, and then end Thanksgiving at my Grandparent’s house in Terre Haute, Indiana. Sister was my great-aunt who went by three names: Sister, Ma, and Mamaw. Sure, she had a real name in there somewhere that mail got sent to, but those were her real names. Even her good friends called her Sister.
At Sister’s house the back room was filled to overflowing with pies, dumplings (which means something very different to Hoosiers than it does to Chicagoans), gravy, Turkey, stuffing and who knows what else. It was a buffet that snaked between two rooms and you took your plate to one of two tables. The adult table or the kid’s table. The kid’s table was, if I remember correctly, a door propped up on milk crates that fit into the space between the sewing room and living room. Not exactly a hallway, but not a room either.
There were a lot of kids, 7-12 of us ranging in age from 3 to 16. We sat on the floor and jostled for position and went back for seconds. And thirds. The Jones family usually cut out around 3PM after supper (what I call lunch) and before they drew names for Christmas and watched the traditional National Lampoons VHS. This is my mom’s side of the family and Sister was my grandma’s sister, both of blessed memory.
We would pile into the van and drive an hour back to Terre Haute and go to my Grandparent’s house on 6th avenue for dinner. A more formal dinner with a card table for the kids. Oyster stuffing for adults, plain stuffing for kids. The kids were four. Me and my sister, my older brother and my cousin Libby. The fifth kid was Cathy, of blessed memory, who passed when I was too young to really remember her.
The adults sat at the very formal dining table in the room my parents got married in. The room where we would set up the Christmas tree later in the weekend, while we ate leftovers. Pumpkin pies where the nativity set would go. It was one of those holidays where my Grandparents made sure everyone in the family had a seat at the table. Dispatching drivers to nursing homes to pick up great-aunts or cousins who would otherwise be alone.
The double thanksgivings ended when my grandparents moved to Texas for retirement. When Sister died, we lost supper. I stopped making Thanksgiving a priority late in college when I spent 1998’s thanksgiving in Ushuaia, Argentina in a hostel. I ate pasta and chatted with other travelers. I later moved to Colorado and if I was going to travel for a winter holiday, Christmas made more sense. There was always in invitation to watch another family’s drama in Colorado, so I got in the habit of doing that.
It isn’t to say that I haven’t spent Thanksgivings with my family, two years ago I went to my Great-Aunt and Uncle’s in Reelsville. Just a week after I converted, my extended family congratulated me and reminded me that I was still welcome in their home. But first we had lunch with my Grandmother at her nursing home.
Last year my mom came up for Chinese food and a day at a spa. It was a nice diversion. Of course, I made stuffing for us to eat for breakfast. Yum, yum. This year I’m worn out from travel–New Jersey, Indiana, Las Vegas, and Virginia–so I’m in Chicago. I’m not going to watch family dramas unfold, but go to two different friend hosted dinners. First to supper at Erin’s and then to dinner at Amy’s.
Don’t worry, I’ll be home for Christmas.