Year around, I try to remind myself to count my multitude of blessings. But perhaps in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, maybe, just maybe, I was a little too focused on making the focaccia to make into croutons to make into stuffing, or polishing my husband’s mother’s silver, or figuring out how to fit 15 and a half people in the dining room accustomed to four, or honestly, zero. It’s not like I wasn’t enjoying the preparations – who doesn’t love list-making and trying a new recipe and having your daughter come home to bake pies?
But, with all of this blessing-counting and enjoyment and despite my intent, there was still ample time for guilt and anxiety! We wanted to keep the numbers down, but the guest list expanded to include more, but still exclude some. And, the prospect of my mother showing up in her unkempt and addled state resulted in some sleepless nights. I kept calm by reminding myself that she was very unlikely to show, having missed virtually all family gatherings for the last several years.
I methodically proceeded with my 48 hours of prep. I am not a perfectionist, and I had two very competent helpers, but I knew that people need to have a place to sit and to be fed and that this requires ample quantities of food, of glassware and china, of refrigerator space and, by God, lots and lots of clean up. In addition to counting blessings, I reminded myself to stay calm.
It was going well! People arrived on time with their own delicious contributions. The appetizers were varied (homemade pâté with homemade peach preserves! Smoked salmon! Chocolate-dipped clementines with a sprinkle of sea salt! Marinated olives! And more!) My young great -nephews quickly turned half the seating into a blanket fort, and the adults adjusted by sitting on the floor in the room we call Siberia, which typically functions only as a laundry-drying and foam-rolling location. Still calm.
I returned to the kitchen to steam some green beans. I casually checked the turkey. It was done. Two hours early. Damn you, new recipe! Damn you, Geoffrey Zakarian. No problem. I would quickly heat up the side dishes while the turkey rested. I had previously had a stroke of genius to reheat my fail-proof make-ahead gravy in a crock pot, where I could easily add the drippings and where the gravy could stay hot throughout the buffet-style dinner. As I was transferring the refrigerated and thus gelatinous gravy to the crock pot, I has jostled by a little boy and 1/3 the gravy slopped onto the counter. Still calm.
I overheard my older sister, my generous, enthusiastic, bohemian Mary Poppins of an older sister, calling my Mom. Yes, they were coming. But surely wouldn’t arrive until all but the gravy was cold. And would require the potentially cramped seating to be undoubtedly cramped. No longer calm.
And guess what? Everybody fit. Everybody ate. There was plenty of gravy. My precocious 7-year old great-nephew organized the dessert offerings into a menu and took orders. And served the dessert. It was adorable and surprisingly efficient.
We all hope our holidays will honor our traditions and delight our loved ones. Moreover, we wish for, but cannot expect, that everything will align to meet our imagined perfect day. However, here’s a little secret to improving those odds. What your gathering needs is a 6-month old party animal who for over 6 hours can charm 4 generations with funny facial expressions and mimicry. Our little MVP did all of that and was able to restore my mother, who is certainly diminished now, to the superlative grandmother and baby-whisperer that she is by engaging in an extended session of raspberry-blowing and grinning. And, now, as I recount my blessings, I remind myself that the best things are the simple ones, the unexpected ones, and especially, the ones that come in small packages.