What's not to like? Someone else cooks

Posted: November 27, 2003

I live 2,080 miles away from my parents, 1,703 miles away from my brother, and 1,074 miles from the in-laws. Which means, for me, Thanksgiving is bliss.

Don't get me wrong, I love my kin, and if my husband and I lived closer, we surely would be sitting at my mother's table.

But when getting to dinner involves two expensive plane tickets, a full day of travel, and a few extra days of precious vacation time, Thanksgiving gets bumped to second-tier-holiday status, and a long-distance phone call suffices.

In my house on Thanksgiving morning, there are no arguments over who will cook what. No hard feelings about where dinner will take place. No relatives sleeping on the pull-out sofa.

There is no last-minute rug shampooing. No late-night silver polishing. No concern whether it's hopelessly out of date to serve chilled chablis.

That is because I am in charge of nothing, and I like it that way.

Seventeen years ago, and three weeks before Thanksgiving, I started working at this newspaper. A colleague who knew I had no family in the area graciously invited my husband and me to her house for turkey supper.

I met her husband, their five teenage children, and another couple who had been taken in. The turkey was delicious, the stuffing was moist, and the sweet potatoes with mandarin oranges and rum was sublime.

The colleague became a friend, and the invitation to Thanksgiving dinner has become a yearly thing.

I call it my Zen holiday.

Each Thanksgiving I happily accept my powerlessness in the cosmic plan of the day and simply let things be.

I wake up and breathe in. I breathe out, and know that by 4 p.m. the universe, and my friend, will provide.

I don't worry about grocery lists, or burned pie crusts, or whether this year's gravy will be a thick, lumpy mess.

My contribution to the fragile order of things is to make sure my husband's good shoes are polished and my cashmere sweater has been dry-cleaned.

Like humble monks, we arrive at my friend's door expecting nothing, and, without fail, reap great rewards.

I'm telling you, it's fantastic.

My friend has stopped working at the newspaper, and over the years our daily office chats have turned into irregular phone calls and even more infrequent visits.

But Thanksgiving is non-negotiable. Every year she calls, and every year we show up.

I've watched her children graduate from high school and college and various post-graduate programs. I've seen them become an artist, a doctor, a veterinarian, a television correspondent, and a Ph.D. candidate.

I breathe in. I breathe out. And the Earth revolves.

Two of the children have married. One has had a child. Another is expecting, and the sweet potato recipe never changes.

For a glorious four or five hours each autumn, I get to be part of a family I love without having to worry that I've overstayed my welcome, stepped on any toes, or wreaked irreparable emotional harm.

So far, anyway, nothing has gone seriously wrong between the appetizers and the coffee and pie.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I cart some leftover sweet potatoes home in a plastic tub and call it a day.

No stress. No anxiety. No angst.

Until, of course, I hit the mall and start Christmas shopping tomorrow.

Contact staff writer Tanya Barrientos at 215-854-5728 or tbarrientos@phillynews.com.

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