Every year I struggle with how to set up the tables for Thanksgiving dinner. I like a long table where everyone can see each other and feel included. But I also like for people to have space and be able to get up as needed. This year’s arrangement seemed nice, although due to a few people having other commitments this year it did not receive a full stress-test. It did require some movement of furniture, but wooden floors and slippery pads of some sort of carpet-like substance that I long-ago attached to the furniture legs made that fairly easy to do.
I also struggle with the amount of food to make. I am pretty informal—do not request nor expect RSVPs and welcome unexpected guests—so how many people will show up is always an exciting mystery. But even when there’s a full house there are always quite a bit of leftovers.
Each year I tell myself to pare things down. I do and am comfortable with that—at first. But then a few days before the meal I start to worry that there won’t be enough food. Even though I keep telling myself that I have this mental argument every year and there has never been a shortage of food it is one of those irrational and increasingly insatiable fears that is easier to succumb to as it really doesn’t hurt anything to have leftovers; they will get consumed one way or another—either in the following days or frozen for later.
That night my step-dad told me that he appreciated the effort I put into the Thanksgiving meal. I told him that it was my pleasure. What I should have said is that it was not an effort but a blessing.
Words are a weird thing and for me at least it can be difficult to come up with the right ones to say in a moment. When my step-dad said “effort” I envisioned some physical exertion that one had to fight through to reach a goal—sweat and toil and all that. When I said it was my pleasure I meant, based on my own mental image of “effort”, that it wasn’t some exhausting trial to be endured.
Thinking back about it now maybe he didn’t mean what I interpreted him as saying. Sure, I put time into planning this gathering, but that’s because this is about giving thanks for the blessings and relationships we have. Was it a physical effort to move furniture around? Yes. Was it a mental effort to plan timings, oven temperatures, etc.? Yes. Was it a time effort to buy ingredients and execute cooking? Yes. Was all this some exhausting hurdle to overcome and win? No.
A few weeks ago after laying my grandfather’s ashes to rest, I told my aunt that when I passed—and while at that point I wouldn’t care one way or another—if people wanted a memorial I thought it would be nice to have a Thanksgiving dinner where everything went wrong and everyone just laughed and bonded.
Right now I am fully resolved that based on overwhelming hard evidence over several years that next year I’m going to get a smaller turkey and halve most of the dishes. Another part of my mind says that based on overwhelming hard evidence over several years that the next year I’m going to end up with a bunch of leftovers.