Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What He Really Wanted

When my grandfather passed away, five years ago before Thanksgiving, I set myself a task. 

I was going to make a great meal if it killed me. 

There are a few things I don't remember from that Thanksgiving - more than a few - but I do remember the weeks of preparation, finding new recipes, setting a day-of schedule, planning out the dishes and the drinks and seeking the perfect balance of leeks and mushrooms and cream for the soup course. I wanted to recreate the holidays, make at least one meal in my Grandpere's memory, fill his Victorian row house with candlelight and the perfume of sophisticated food. 

And I kept doing that - Thanksgivings and Christmases, I ran around the kitchen, trying to fit my love for my grandfather in every morsel and on every swirl of blue and white on our transferware china. As if, somehow, he'd be with me if I just got it right, if the food was good, if we all squeezed in together, bumping elbows, in the gilt-papered dining room, and were, against all odds, a whole and happy family. 

And then last year, my mom cooked. 

She told me recently about her own stress before that big meal, and how, as I sat around doing absolutely nothing, she began to wonder (perhaps a bit frustratedly) why I wasn't helping. And how, almost at the same time, I told her how precious it was to me that I didn't have to do a thing. Maybe I thought that Grandpere was sated, finally - or maybe I realized that his love for me was unconditional, even after his passing, and that I had done enough simply by being his granddaughter and by loving him back. 

Family events are challenging, sometimes, because as life changes we have to adapt, have to reconsider what family means as we grow older. Even so, I had to let go of the notion that I was the glue holding everything together, that what and how I cooked would fix the problems and return to us the mandatory cheeriness which my grandfather enforced with his own enjoyment of the holidays. I have had to reassess my entrenched feelings about Thanksgiving and Christmas - moments I have thought I had to endure, rather than enjoy. 

As it gets colder, I get grumpier. The sun stays out for approximately five seconds, the air is sharp, and I miss my Grandpere. 

But maybe, if I continue to let go of my insistence that everything should stay the same - that we all must gather round a big meal and smile at each other - maybe I can finally honor my Grandpere's happiness during the holiday season by being happy, myself. 

This year I am doing something so novel and unprecedented that I'm blowing my own socks off. My husband, of course, is the instigator in this - he's lived through the stressful holiday season with me for a few years now (God bless him), and he came up with a fantastic, while unorthodox, idea. 

Thanksgiving in my own home, on my own terms - and instead of a giant meal, a build-your-own-Thanksgiving-sandwich bar. Piling turkey and stuffing and cranberry between fresh bread - like making a leftovers sandwich a day early. 

I know, right? Pretty darn cool. 

I don't know if Grandpere would have liked it, but I think he would have liked to see me smile. Really smile, and mean it. 

So I'm getting my lists together - the shopping, the recipes, the timeline, the neverending cleaning - and I'm feeling a bit of stress niggle at the back of my mind, but I'm banishing it, forcefully. There's always cleaning to do - but will people really judge me if it isn't perfect? And there's cooking to do - sauerkraut, stuffing, turkey, pies, ice cream, etc - but I'm not going to let my perfectionism get in the way there, either. I'm making some new choices - gone is the pecan pie, enter my husband's favorite, cookies and cream (that really is a pie). I'm whipping up a few batches of ice cream - snickerdoodle, Oreo, chocolate. And I'm keeping a few traditions, too - namely, my grandmother's sauerkraut with juniper and gin. And, also very important, I'm going to get up early and watch the Macy's parade with my husband and stepmother, who is coming over to spend the night so that we can have eggs and bagels in front of the TV, wonder at the giant ballons, make fun of the boy bands on the ridiculous floats. 

And it's going to be good. 

So, I will be pretty busy for the next week and a half - I have a craft show on Saturday and a bachelorette party on Black Friday on top of Thanksgiving. But I'm not going to obsess or worry or doubt myself. And I'm not going to think of my Grandpere as looking down on me with unrealistic expectations - not anymore. I'm going to do better than that. I'm going to remember him and his delight and his love of good food and honor him with contentment and joy. 

I think that is what he really wanted for us, after all. 

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