Twas the Day Before Thanksgiving

[Editor’s note: Thanksgiving 2020 saw the world plunged into a global coronavirus pandemic of epic proportions that necessitated widespread isolation until scientists could find a vaccine. As a result, families working to help slow the spread of a vicious novel virus stayed home, separated from loved ones. Since then vaccines and boosters have been developed and distributed free to Americans, and so millions will cautiously gather this year for the annual holiday tradition while remembering the world is not yet out of the woods on Covid-19. This is an encore of last year’s post, a reminder of how far we’ve come in one short year.]

Twas the day before Thanksgiving and all through the house
Lots of goodies were cooking and tested by the spouse. 
The pies were all set on the counter to cool
While Mom in her apron was a holiday-cooking fool.

That was my sad attempt at putting a poetic spin on the holiday when I originally wrote this post some years ago – but this year it needed an update to reflect the sadness and hopefulness of 2020.

Like many, I’m in the kitchen today prepping for tomorrow’s big small meal with family my husband. Most years my sister Lori and I traditionally take on the cooking and baking for multiple family members, something we both enjoy as we incorporate old favorites along with new dishes.

We broke tradition a few years ago when we roasted a chicken instead of a turkey, a new idea that carried over last year and will continue this year but this year Mr. Mitchell wanted ham, so ham it is. Lori and I are adding side dishes, bread, and desserts. My sister Lori is at her home in RVA with her husband and daughter while we are in Staunton. Our married children are at their homes with their spouses spending Thanksgiving alone in this Covid year … but Thanksgiving will carry on.

It’s comforting to stay in touch with family and Southern traditions by using familiar recipes. My Aunt Ola made the best baked mac and cheese you’ve ever wrapped your lips around. It’s a cheesy goodness the invokes many memories, a reminder of fun family dinners at her house when there were so many of us that we barely fit so we had a children’s table in the kitchen and a grown-up table in the dining room.

I think I was in my 30s before ever graduating from the children’s table which, sadly, meant the grown-ups were growing older and leaving us. There’s many happy memories of those years at the children’s table especially after I had my own kids and we were all sitting in the kitchen together with the cousins.

Chocolate pies were always anticipated at holidays from my Aunt Ruth. These aren’t pudding-from-a-box pies. These are — pardon my language — “stir-your-damn-arm-off” real chocolate filling pies (as it was deemed by my sisters and me because it took forever to thicken and you couldn’t leave it unattended or it would stick to the bottom of the pan and burn). After it was cooked just right, that delicious rich chocolate concoction was poured into a flaky homemade crust.

I take a short cut on the crust — no patience for making it and really don’t want to spend the time — and buy a ready-made one, something Aunt Ruth would never have done. One year I made phyllo pastry crust for something new and a little — emphasis on “little” — healthier. The pie is a meringue-topped decadent chocolate fantasy loved by all so after my aunt passed away over 20 years ago, I carried on the chocolate pie tradition.

This year, however, we’re not having chocolate pie. With no one here but the two of us, I’m making a pecan pie, something that was a staple for our Thanksgivings before children. The kids didn’t like nuts so pecan pies took a back seat … until this year when warm slices will be topped with vanilla ice cream.

That’s what holidays are — traditions carried on by families from generation to generation. My aunts were fantastic cooks from a large family and so my sisters and I learned their tricks of the trade. One slice of pie or a serving of macaroni and cheese unlocks those memories of years past and those who are no longer with us – cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. Those traditions will be going on tomorrow all over America.

This year, because of the global coronavirus pandemic, will see small family groups across the land for those who are trying to avoid the exploding numbers of Covid-19. For many families, there will be the sad reality of empty chairs at the table for those missing family members, many who were keepers of the recipes and traditions we carry on at the holidays.

The food is always delicious, the baking is fun, but the best part of Thanksgiving is was being with family. Though my father passed away years ago leaving behind three young daughters, another dad came into our lives when Cal married our mother, and so we are grateful to celebrate with the two of them who are now the youthful ages of 91 and 92 this year we will miss my mom and step-dad as this is the first year both will be gone. Cal died of Covid-19 on April 24; Mom passed away in July 2019. Their absence is a reminder of the two strong influences on our lives who are now gone.

We may not be in a large gathering this year but at least we’re home with family members. Some in our communities are working through Thanksgiving.

Many thanks and prayers for our healthcare workers who are stretched thin due to Covid — doctors, nurses, aides, housekeeping, food prep, pharmacies, laundry services, and everyone else who is necessary to run our hospitals. Not to be forgotten are our first responders that include EMTs, police officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, and those who support them.

To America’s military members who are stationed around the world and away from their families, a special thanks and prayers for them and their loved ones. We can never repay their dedication, sacrifice, and service to our country which allows us the freedom to celebrate Thanksgiving in a peaceful land.

We are grateful for all.

As I head back to the kitchen to finish food prep, here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. To those who are traveling for the holiday, be safe out there. And to all … be well.

Originally published November 25, 2020, a take-off from a post written over a decade ago.

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