Covid-19 restrictions are making my days strikingly similar. That’s not a complaint; I find much to like about living this way. But not always. The default emotion is vague discomfort, a sense that things are not right. The absence of touching anyone outside your own household for these last many months will do that. And then there is the approach of a Thanksgiving cum restrictions.
The other day, a walk along the Hudson in Riverside Park was an antidote to feelings of bleakness despite everything around me being gray, completely gray, gray without qualification. The first noticeable cool front of the season was blowing chilly dampness down the river from up beyond the George Washington Bridge. Trees that were full of color the last time I looked were almost bare. Piles of big wet oak leaves covered the footpaths.
The grayness and chill and dead leaves cheered me a great deal; for that short time in the park, life was normal. It was especially welcome during this approach to Covid Thanksgiving.
In observance of best health practices, Ann and I will forego getting together with family and friends. We don’t like doing this. I doubt anyone does. But much that we treasure about the observance will be the same as always.
We’ll tell stories about Thanksgivings past, but with maybe a little more feeling this year. It’s a way to be together when we can’t be together. It will be like the Feast of All Saints and All Souls – celebrating relationships, giving thanks, remembering those no longer with us. It’s not the same as having Uncle Mort get drunk and disorderly in person or physically setting up a separate kids’ table, but it’s joyous, nonetheless.
In 1984, I made Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish featured on NPR. The Stamberg tribe may like it, but my bunch rejected it emphatically, and for good reason; it was disgusting. For crying out loud, it contains onions, sour cream, and horseradish. I don’t know what I was thinking.
In England, we invited some American friends over on a Saturday evening for an approximation of the real thing. In the circumstances, I felt free to depart from tradition, and instead of a turkey, I roasted wood pigeons from Harrods Food Hall. No one asked for my recipe.
The first time I was with Ann’s family on the holiday, I dumped the bowl of peas in my lap. It drew more laughter than I thought seemly. Eventually, it was explained to me that the former husband of Ann’s sister had done the same thing when he was new at the family board.
Several years in a row, Uncle Byron entertained my boys and their cousins by showing them how to make a bird’s nest in the mashed potatoes and fill it with peas and gravy.
In late morning, as the turkey was still being stuffed, Ann’s father would mix a Manhattan (with Old Overholt Rye – no other). I shall bear witness to the life of that good man by doing the same.
For years, Ann and I have listened to Over the River & Through the Woods, a recording of A Prairie Home Companion Thanksgiving show from 2004, and we tear up over Keillor’s original song “Goodbye to my Uncles, Goodbye to my Aunts.” It’s the Thanksgiving equivalent of White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Another unchanged aspect of this year’s celebration is that the feast begins weeks before the Thursday itself as we mull over menu possibilities. Day after day Ann considers desserts. I think we are now settled on apple pandowdy plus either carrot cake, pumpkin pie, or, at my devil-may-care request, sticky toffee pudding. I fully expect the final choice to change right up until the last time grocery stores are not too crowded for safe and pleasant shopping.
Ann does not eat meat, but I am a flexitarian vegan. A whole turkey is too much for me alone, and serving a piece of a turkey just doesn’t seem festive. In its place, a gleaming, free-range roast chicken will grace the table.
Approached in this way, it’s possible to observe Covid-19 precautions strictly and still have a fine celebration. Even those who live alone can enjoy a muted version of anticipating and remembering and holiday indulgence.
All good, but it sure would be nice if those things came with an embrace, a hand on the shoulder, a kiss, a handshake.