My First Thanksgiving When Mom Was My GUEST!
It was the year I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, leaving the boarding school where I’d been teaching in western Massachusetts. I was living in an apartment – actually, the 2nd floor of an old home that had been carved into three dwellings, one on each floor of the 19th century Victorian. My roommate and I found ourselves delighting in its nooks and crannies, within walking distance of Harvard Square, but not within walking distance of the city where I’d grown up, Waltham, where my mom lived. I was excited about my new life – and my growing freedom as a young adult, now in my third year of teaching.
I remember that mom thought I could simply live at home again, now that I was teaching close to my home city, but I really wanted to declare my independence. Living in my own apartment, not in a dormitory, nor graduate housing, nor the boarding school’s faculty apartment (in one of the school’s dormitories), was another step into adulthood.
That autumn, as Thanksgiving drew near, I knew that I could add a line to my ‘declaration of independence’ with an invitation to mom to have Thanksgiving dinner with me, a dinner created by me, surrounded by my friends, the ‘orphans’ – those who couldn’t get back to their families over the short holiday break – left in Cambridge. At first, I sensed some resistance — Thanksgiving was my mother’s holiday, and my traditional homecoming, with her laying out special dishes and silverware, cooking special recipes for the turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, and pies, that she would begin to prepare days ahead of that 4th Thursday in November.
Ultimately, mom agreed. She would come to my home for Thanksgiving. Each of my friends agreed to bring something for the dinner; I offered to roast the turkey – needing to use the more reliable oven in the flat of my first -floor neighbor (someone who would be coming to our Thanksgiving dinner), which also meant carrying the 20- pound turkey down a flight of stairs very early Thanksgiving Day, and then tending to it as if I were birthing the bird, basting and checking in on it throughout the morning hours.
Our dining room table was in our kitchen (we didn’t have a separate dining room), and was a weathered barn door I’d found at an auction at a farmhouse in Massachusetts. Our dishware was a roundup of odds and ends from all who were attending, and our silverware’s origins were the flatware drawers of each of our respective families, sending us off into the world with ‘enough spoons to eat cereal and soup, and knives and forks to slice bread and meat’. We had small pilgrim candles as a centerpiece, and Marimekko napkins that spoke to the ‘70’s and the Design Research revolution that assisted Cambridge renters in accessorizing our dwellings.
What I remember is that the turkey was not tough, the table was large enough for all of us to sit around, my mother was treated as the ‘mom of everyone’ to her great delight, and my simple prayer was taken from the writer whose simplicity I tried to emulate, whose independence I admired and aspired to – Thoreau, whose words I used as we all sat down.
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence.” That day, I knew my mother was grateful for what we had and who we were to each other, and, not realizing that she had only 7 years left in her life, we lived fully into my first Thanksgiving dinner where she was my guest, and still could be my mom.