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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.

Elsa grabbed my hand. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said. “I need your help with that stuffing of yours. I wanted it to be perfect.”