There was an unsettled quality to the approaching holidays this year, for many reasons. Chief among them is that I’ve had my “empty nest” house on the market for the past few months, and many things have migrated in sealed boxes to the storage unit a mile and a half from my house.
Baking dishes. Pots and pans. Place mats. Christmas decorations, including the crèche and the animated plush moose that sings “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” I love that moose, and I love that song! Really, I totally expected to have moved before the holidays. Instead I found myself rooting through the storage unit in October to reclaim my winter boots and a long down coat to see me through the Wisconsin winter. Sigh…
And so I might be forgiven for deciding to pass on hosting what has become known as “the big-ass Thanksgiving dinner” at my house, where I have served turkey and all the trimmings to an assortment of fifteen or so folks, including my ex-husband and his relatives, for several years running. It’s a long story, but I often joke that I kept his family in the divorce. Sure beats a lot of arrangements!
The other chief reason is that nests are empty because the birds have successfully fledged and flown from it into their own lives. One of my sons lives across the country in Seattle. One of my daughters lives essentially out of a suitcase as a performance artist and contemporary circus performer, and spent a good part of the year either in the mountains of New Mexico or in Canada. The other son and daughter are each married and live ninety miles away, with school and jobs and my first grandchild to keep them anchored. I consider myself lucky if I seem them all at the same time, and it only seems to happen perhaps once a year.
So this year’s Thanksgiving saw me pulling up a chair at my ex-husband’s house, bringing a cake, a salad, and my ninety-one-year old mother and her wheelchair for dinner. Half of my children were there, along with both of their spouses and my grandson, and so a nice and civilized evening was had by all. But still…there were missing pieces to the family picture.
As Christmas approached, I didn’t plan to decorate, or to even buy a tree. With the prospect of a house “showing” and the attendant fuss of sudden cleaning and de-cluttering eternally lurking around the corner, I thought, why bother? And it wasn’t as if there was anyone else home to put on a holiday show for, I thought sourly. And most of the Christmas things were sitting at the bottom of a stack of boxes anyway.
And then the daughter and her life-in-a-suitcase returned to my house to regroup between projects, and suddenly going to the Christmas tree lot with her and buying a live balsam fir became the most natural thing to do. I located a string of lights and some antique ornaments in a closet that had not yet made it into storage, and suddenly what the guy staining my windows called my “little Charlie Brown tree” looked just lovely standing in the living room.
And then the son living in Seattle announced that he’d bought a plane ticket home for a week around Christmas, and my heart positively leapt. I started to calculate just how I could bring them all together at my house for a dinner. With a smaller group, I thought optimistically, I could probably cook a meal with the few pots and pans still remaining in the kitchen. I’d have to buy some napkins. But given that two of the four hadn’t had anything like a traditional Thanksgiving dinner a month before, turkey and stuffing were definitely going to be on the menu.
I touched base with my eldest, sounding her out about her work schedule, and her husband’s holiday-unfriendly hours as a police officer. She was not having the best day—a painful sinus infection was making sure of that. And so, remembering just how complicated traveling with a toddler (okay, doing anything with a toddler!) can be in winter, I volunteered to bring most of the dinner to her house instead. And suddenly the pieces all fell into place.
We gathered on a Sunday afternoon a few days later, arriving in three different cars from three different locations. I brought turkey and gravy and stuffing, and Christmas cookies for dessert. My daughter and son-in-law made the potatoes and (gasp!) the vegetables, which had always gotten short shrift at my table. And by wine and candlelight and laughter, we enjoyed a December “Fakesgiving dinner” just as tasty as any I’d prepared in November in years before.
Then, happily fed to the point of stupefaction, we retired to the living room to sprawl across the furniture and open the Christmas presents I’d brought. The tree in my daughter’s living room was still nearly bare, with a few lights and a single ornament hanging from a lower branch. And then her husband put some carols on the stereo and brought out the ornaments, and we all trimmed the tree together. And again, my heart was warm to bursting.
My house–and the “nest” where my children all grew up–may technically have been ninety miles away… But within this close-knit circle of the ones I love, my heart and my “home” were right here.