This year was an unusual one. Because of my diagnosis and treatment, I decided not to be the family chef this year. I figure I have been making the Thanksgiving meal for over a decade. I started a few years before my mother died in 2001. On some level, I enjoyed cooking the big meal. I would review recipes, get different tricks or techniques to try, and worked to preserve the family favorites.
I have fond memories of helping my mother out in the kitchen, which transitioned into her telling me what to do, and making the meal, to being the only one who really knew what to do when she died. The last Christmas my mother was alive, I remember her and my aunt sitting around the table peeling potatoes or cutting something up while they watched me conquer the meal mostly on my own. I think it soothed her to know that I had remembered what she had taught me.
After she died, there were moments were I still enjoyed cooking the meal, but I began to use the excuse of cooking to avoid having to deal with my relatives. I had a growing anxiety about being the only child with no significant other at the event. I used the holiday to beat myself up about being “alone.” Why was I not good enough to have a family of my own? Plus, there was a sense that because I was single and lived locally, that it was almost expected that I should play a great hostess and work to make everything as pleasant for everyone else as possible.
This grew into resentment that I was expected to do it all. Granted, there was a part of me that wanted to do it alone because it seemed easier. I claimed the kitchen as my domain. I drank enough to feel as little as possible, and tried to not let comments about the food, the timing, the cost, or any of a multitude of other shit bother me until I had left and could bawl all the way home.
So this year, after I was diagnosed and knew I would be going through treatment, I told my Dad to figure it out. I didn’t know how I would feel by the time the holiday got here, and I didn’t want to have to worry about it.
As the holiday drew near, I tried to stay out of the planning. The hard part is that I have been doing it for so long that everything was like second nature to me. It would have been too easy to insert myself. The thing about preparing such a big meal is that you want to take pride in accomplishing it. I wanted whoever did it to feel that they had me as a resource, but to also feel free to “own” it.
Much to my surprise, my father decided to prepare the meal. My sister also made three classic dishes. Of course, my sister is the kind of girl who can blow up an egg trying to hard-boil it. I thought they did an admirable job with it.
You could tell my father was nervous going into turkey day. He put in the turkey at 10am. Instead of folding the wings behind the turkey, he skewered them onto the breast. I guess he spilled some stuff and accidently threw away the chopped celery instead of the leaves. I wasn’t there for it, but when he told me about it I told him that he just did what any other cook would do. I reminded him that the meal needed to not be perfect. It would be tasty no matter what.
At 2pm, the turkey was cooked. My father and I both were a little surprised. I told him to pull it and put in all the side dishes to warm up. I asked him, “Did you let all the guests know that dinner would be early this year?” (I usually didn’t serve dinner until 5pm) His banter suggested no, so I sent my sister off to call everyone and figure out where they were. One party hadn’t even started their two-hour trek.
I smiled and helped Dad get everything in a “keep warm” state and just released it. I didn’t feel any anxiety, but I confess that I was medicated. When the whole family did get there, I was finally able to sit back and just watch them. I saw quarks in personality that I hadn’t before. I answered a lot of questions about my health.
I don’t feel like a sickly person, even going through treatment. It is a little strange to hear people constantly asking me how I feel. It is like they want me to complain, but I don’t. I feel fairly good. Deal.
As we sat and ate dinner, I really appreciated all of the effort that went into the meal and the fact that they went out of their way to let me sit back and relax. I think my father and sister discovered on some level what an undertaking it is.
I didn’t feel lonely this year. I realize that my life was never meant to reflect the Hallmark version of the holiday, and that is okay. At the end, it is all about creating an excuse to be together and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t know if everyone that was there was excited to be in that situation, but it did feel great to leave and get back to normal life.