Learning to Let Go at Thanksgiving

A grandmother learns that being a guest brings blessings of its own.

By Betty Graham, Alexandria, Virginia

As appeared in

Pumpkin pie, cherry-apple pie, broccoli casserole, our traditional stuffing, mashed potatoes mixed with sour cream. Thanksgiving was two weeks away but I was already planning the menu. We always had dinner at my house.

My youngest son lived 300 miles away, but I could always count on my son Bruce and his family who lived just an hour away.

I was going over the grocery list again in my head as the phone rang. It was Bruce’s wife, Elsa. She was calling to talk about Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t believe what she was saying.

“What do you mean you’re not coming?” I said. “Not coming on Thanksgiving?”

“We want you to be our guest this year,” Elsa said. “Eric will be home from college and Carlos is bringing his girlfriend and a few stray friends from his apartment building across town. Of course Alex can’t wait to see you. It’ll be fun.”

I was shocked, confused, and most of all hurt. A guest at Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was always at my house.

“It’s too much work for you, Mom. You come down here and let us treat you,” Elsa said. “We’ll eat around four o’clock.”

I always served dinner at 2:00. “Four’s too late,” I said. “You know I can’t drive after dark.”

“You can spend the night.”

Obviously they didn’t want any part of my Thanksgiving. “I just won’t come,” I said, and hung up.

I tried to distract myself with housework, but it was no use. All I could think about was all the years I’d worked to make the perfect Thanksgiving for my family. I threw down my dust rag in frustration.

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go... The old song ran through my head. But nobody wanted to go to grandmother’s house this year.

That night Bruce called. He sounded almost as angry as I was.

“You’re not being fair, Mom,” he said. “We want you here. You can help with the cooking. But it’s time we started some of our own traditions. Don’t spoil it for all of us.”

Much as I hated to admit it, my son had a point. I’d started my own Thanksgiving traditions when I got married. I couldn’t very well blame him for wanting to do the same. But I don’t have to enjoy it, I thought as I agreed to go. Just for one year, I told myself. That’s it. Next year everyone would be at my house where they should be.

On Thanksgiving morning I packed up two freshly baked pumpkin pies, 24 deviled eggs, some cranberry relish and a flower centerpiece I’d made in a class at church.

 With everything secure in my car, I started off to Bruce’s house. Anyone passing me on the road would probably think I was always just a guest at Thanksgiving. They didn’t know I’d been fired as the host.

At the house Elsa pulled me inside. “Mom’s here!” she called. Bruce came out of the kitchen full of the smell of baking turkey and ham.

“We’re sharing the cooking,” Elsa said, red-faced from a morning working at the stove. I knew all about that.

“When did you get so tall?” I said, giving my grandson Eric a hug.

His brother Alex ran up with a present for me—his school picture in a frame.

“I wanted you to have it,” he said. He pressed it into my hand.

Carlos arrived next and introduced his friends. “Hello, Mrs. Graham,” his girlfriend said. She’d brought me a gift, a pretty flower arrangement in a glass bowl. Elsa got one too.

How sweet, I thought.

The kids went into the living room to play some games. Elsa and Bruce turned to go back into the kitchen.

Guess there’s no place for me, I thought. I just didn’t belong.

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Your Comments (10)

What a beautiful story. We have been hosting our family in this home for 16 years and not sure how many other years before that. We took over when granny passed away. We have three generations gather every year and it has become more precious every year, and
I hope it never ends and that the second generation will take over when we can't do it any longer. We all bring the same thing every year and will not have a happy crowd if the menu is changed. Thru the years, I did find out that the house didn't have to be perfect, we were there to enjoy the fellowship and have a happy time.

Wonderful story.This was my first Thanksgiving holiday since my husband divorced me after 49 yrs. I thought the same way as this story but my kids asked me to their in-laws and then to my son's. Did not want any part of the holidays but had a beautiful Thanksgiving and felt very blessed to have wonderful family and friends.Some times we have to change our thinking but sometimes those changes are for the good.Thank God for children and their insistance to change and start their own traditions

This was a very uplifting story. This year was my first Thanksgiving as a divorced woman. I was married for 49 yrs when my husband asked for a divorce. I was like the grandmother in the story,only this was my first Thanksgiving without my husband and I just was not sure I wanted to do Thanksgiving at all,but I did and had a wonderful day with my kids and her husband's family. I just thank GOD for family and new friends who make you feel SO SPECIAL. This story made me realize it is those people who love you who make the holidays.

The verse from Psalm 23...he maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Glad that He knows when we need to rest even when we don't! I'm to that age and sometimes still host a small party but love to go to their (kids) houses too.

great story!my husband of 55 years died August 209.life will never be the same-but family keeps me going.GOD does care for us! great story-helped me with Holidays coming again.I now live with my son and family.Hurricane "CHARLEY" took our hoime-but god had things worked out!Ed had lung cancer-but beat it .for 5more years we had each other.GOD IS GOOD!!!

You surely are the centerpiece of the dinner, even if you don't host any longer. It is so funny and encouraging; I couldn't stop laughing when you said that you gave the audience what they wanted.

I LOVED this story! My mother had Thanksgiving for over 50 years, when she died 2 years ago, my sister and I decided that one year I would host it, the next she would....as hard as it is on daddy not to have it at his house, my sister & I have loved starting our own traditions.

This Thanksgiving will be my first without my husband of 70 years. He was able to get to our daughter's house last year, but it was the last time he left our house. My granddaughter will host this year, so everything will be different. I don't like change, but I expect the holiday will be a blessing to all of us.

A beautiful story, reflective of the painful but necessary letting-go which parents must endure all throughout their children's lives.

what a wonderful story, sometimes we don't realize that it's our kids time to continue the tradition,just as our parents did. We get old, and don't want to change, but at the end she found out it wasn't so bad...turned out even better.