Not If, But When

I roasted a turkey last night for the first time in my life. It turned out much better than was reasonable, considering that I’d never done it before. I used the “Roasted Brined Turkey” recipe from The Joy of Cooking, 7th edition (1997). When I was a kid, I used to leaf through my mom’s copy of Joy, which was always either out or close to hand in the kitchen. I particularly liked the section where it described how to dress small game, including butchering a porcupine. Both J and I were given copies of Joy by our respective mothers—she the Christmas after she graduated high school and I as a housewarming present when I got my first apartment after graduating college—so when we moved in together we had two. We ended up keeping hers because it was in good condition and had an inscription from her mom in it, whereas mine was beat up and not personalized. 18 years later, the dust jacket on our copy is getting frayed around the edges, and some of the pages are warped from having gotten wet. Sometimes I forget that it isn’t the one my mom gave me. The Roasted Brined Turkey recipe was very easy, and the meat was more moist and flavorful than I was expecting.

Last night was also the first time in my life that I ate a Thanksgiving dinner in my own house, without any extended family. We Zoomed with J’s family for a bit in the afternoon, 29 people in 10 households across 4 states. I called my mom and aunts afterwards, and texted my brothers and my dad. I didn’t end up talking to the cousins I’d usually see, or my grandmother.

My grandmother—my dad’s mom—has been hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner at her house since well before I was born, with all of her kids and grandkids in attendance as well as her sisters and their kids and usually a number of family friends. Over time, as we’ve grown up, my generation have started to move away—me to San Diego, one cousin to the Bay Area, another to Seattle, another to Florida. As kids we saw each other all the time, but now it’s just the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas as we switch off between my family and J’s. My grandmother is 92 years old, and though she’s in good health and still lives on her own, it’s been on my mind that I probably don’t have too many more holiday meals with her left. Last night as J and I set the table, our middle child said “It’s like a feast!” And it was, and a bigger one than was strictly necessary for just the five of us. I couldn’t help wondering if my future Thanksgivings would look more like this one than like the ones I remember. Or perhaps not if but when.

So much is in flux right now. Nobody knows what the future will look like, except that it probably won’t look like now. Then again, continuity has always been more of an idea than a reality. There will be a last time my grandmother hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, but there was also a first time. Things change. The desire to hold on to the past can be urgent, even desperate. But eventually change comes, and maybe sometimes letting go means we get the chance to shape what comes after.