The holidays can be hard.
If you’ve ever lost someone you love, you know what I’m talking about.
This year, my husband Jason and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. It was the first holiday since Jason’s father, Ron, died in July.
My mother-in-law flew in from Arizona to join us along with some of Jason’s cousins and a few of our mutual friends. It was going to be exactly the kind of Thanksgiving I liked – full of friends, family, and a wanderer or two.
Ron had always made the stuffing. It was a long, arduous affair that he would begin around 7am and end about thirty minutes after everyone else had started eating. We used to rave about it and always take seconds.
It wasn’t until this year when I wondered out loud to Jason who was going to make the stuffing that he and I both admitted we’d never really liked Ron’s. We just liked the ceremony of the whole thing. How proud he was of it.
This Thanksgiving I wanted to make it special. I wanted to take on the impossible task of filling the giant, Spanish-speaking, long-story-telling gap Ron left at our table. I wanted to help Jason and my mother-in-law, Lynette (and myself) through what I knew would be a tough day.
That might explain how I went to Bed, Bath, And Beyond to buy one tablecloth and emerged with three tablecloths, twelve water glasses, twelve wine glasses, twelve dinner plates, twelve salad plates, Thanksgiving-themed napkins, a card table, four chairs, and a percolator.
If it was possible to drown sadness in a beautiful tablescape, I was determined to do it.
Like any good Midwesterner trying to avoid emotions, I put my head down and got to work.
I searched the Internet for the “Worlds Greatest Stuffing” and doubled the recipe. I puréed my own pumpkins and made pumpkin pie from scratch. I put two sticks of butter in the mashed potatoes. Anything, anything to make this Thanksgiving special and different and not a reminder of loss.
As it turns out, it was a fool’s errand. The stuffing was delicious but missing the love Ron had poured into his. The mashed potatoes were so creamy they made my mother-in-law sick. And after all my careful roasting and pureeing and cooking the pumpkin pie just right, I realized two minutes before serving it that I had forgotten to put in the sugar.
The truth was, none of it had mattered anyway. There was still a moment during the meal when Jason toasted his father and his mother’s eyes welled up and no amount of beautiful centerpieces could have stopped that. Nor should they have.
Nothing makes pain as sharp and tangible as when it’s butting right up against joy.
That night I threw out two perfectly baked (disgusting) pumpkin pies and thought about how much Ron would have laughed at all of this. What an old-fashioned kick he would have had.
Despite all the set backs and small misses, Jason and I both consider it the best Thanksgiving we’ve ever hosted. The loss of Ron had crystalized what was important and made us all a little more raw, a little more honest with each other, and a little more appreciative of this time we had together.
Plus, those tablecloths looked damn good.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.