Learning to Let Go at Thanksgiving

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

Posted in , Oct 19, 2011

Illustration of a grandmother in car with Thanksgiving fare

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.”

I could see how much fun Bruce and Elsa were having cooking together. I couldn’t help but get carried along on their high spirits.

“What am I doing wrong with this brown sugar glaze?” Bruce asked, struggling with his ham. “The pineapples and cherries won’t stay on!”

I had to laugh. I helped him secure the fruit to the ham, slather it with glaze and put it back in the oven. Then all three of us went out into the living room where the kids were.

“We want to hear stories about Dad when he was little, Grandma,” Eric said. “You know the best ones.”

“Don’t you dare,” said Bruce, but I gave the audience what they wanted. Even Carlos’s friends hung on my every word.

I’d told these stories a hundred times, but somehow now they were funnier than ever. When everything was ready we gathered in the dining room for the holiday meal.

Elsa had set out the meal buffet style. What a good idea, I found myself thinking.

When our plates were full we sat around the table where Elsa’s silver candlesticks glowed beside my centerpiece. They looked beautiful together.

“Mom,” Bruce asked, “would you like to say grace?”

All eyes at the table turned to me, as if it were only natural that I should lead the blessing. I bowed my head.

“Thank you, God, for my family, and this wonderful meal. Thank you for my new young friends, who I would never have met if I hadn’t come here today. Thank you for every one of these angels around the table. Thank you for showing me that being a guest at Thanksgiving has an honor all its own.”

When Carlos and his friends left that night Elsa wrapped up a huge pan of leftovers for them to take along, just as I’d always done for her and Bruce all those years.

The next morning I got my own leftovers—enough to feed me for at least a week.

That was ten years ago and I haven’t hosted Thanksgiving since. I can no longer make the drive to Bruce’s myself, but someone always comes to get me.

It turns out you don’t need grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is wherever Grandma goes.

Read more inspirational Thanksgiving stories.


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