Thanksgiving is an excuse to go home and share a meal with family. Maybe it’s been a week, a month or even a year since everyone sat down at the table together. It’s been nearly a decade since I celebrated Thanksgiving with both of my parents, and it’s been even longer since I spent it with my entire immediate family. It’s been four years since my family has gathered for any occasion at all. Both of my parents are alive and still married (to each other), by the way.
I’d be lying if I said my family’s lack of togetherness wasn’t a little destructive. I feel almost wounded at times. I’ve snapped at friends who’ve persisted in asking me what I’m doing for Thanksgiving year after year. (“Nothing” was typically my surly answer.) I’ve interpreted the need to see family as emotional weakness. I’ve even dubbed the entire Thanksgiving holiday meaningless as a sort of self-preservation technique. But, at the end of the day, I wish my family was a little bit more like everyone else’s.
My sister is my savior. She’s part sibling, part mother, part friend. At 14 years my senior, she’s become the center of my family life. If I have time to visit family, I visit her and and her husband and three kids. If I’m able to visit for the holidays, I make sure to go where she’s going. My brother usually does the same and so, it’s as close as we get to a traditional family gathering.
I visit my sister several times a year, but I haven’t spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with her for quite a while. In retail and in radio, the need for warm bodies is constant. And since I’ve been employed in both since graduating from college, I’ve skipped out on almost all recent holidays. Overall, it felt fine and normal to work during those times. I think another person in my situation might’ve felt sadder than I did. But when work was over, when I went home to watch TV and eat dinner alone, I felt lonely and isolated. It wasn’t so much that I was without my family; it was that everyone else was with theirs. The tweets slowed down, no one was on gchat and Facebook and Instagram were a barrage of family photos.
Luckily, movies like You’ve Got Mail and The Family Stone exist. I watched these fictional families and their fictional coziness, and I wrapped it around myself like a blanket.
The Last Six Thanksgivings
I spent my first Thanksgiving away from family in 2007. I was three months into studying abroad in London. Any sort of trip back home was out of the question and my American friends were all in the same boat, so I didn’t feel that bad about it. It helped a lot that life for most Londoners went on as usual. After all, “Thanksgiving” was just a fall Thursday in Britain. I rang in the holiday at a pub with an American friend. We ordered festive sandwiches with chicken, cranberry sauce, stuffing and lettuce — no turkey, thanks to a bird flu-related shortage that year.
In 2008, I was back in in Washington, DC, finishing my senior year of college. I took the train up to Yonkers, NY to have Thanksgiving at my grandparents. My mom flew out from California, my sister and her family came down from Massachusetts and my brother, cousins, aunts and uncles all gathered for dinner. My dad, of course, stayed home. What I really remember, though, is the train ride back to DC during which I slipped, fell and cried publicly. Not the finest of all Thanksgivings, though it was the last one to date that I spent with family.
2009 was an especially sad one. I was working two jobs, one of which was retail, along with an NPR internship. If you’ve worked retail, you know the importance of staffing up for Black Friday. I had to be in DC on Wednesday and Friday. Since it definitely wasn’t worth going up to New York for the day, I went into NPR and spent Thanksgiving with the Talk of the Nation staff. Like any other Thursday, they had a show to put on and their intern had gone home. I swooped in, ran scripts and tried to do my best to help out, but it felt incredibly lonely. I bought a sad lunch at McDonald’s and ate it alone.
2010 was slightly better. I worked Thanksgiving day at Morning Edition, where I’d started about a month earlier. I didn’t know anyone that well yet, so I still felt lonely. At least I was making some money, though.
In 2011, I spent Thanksgiving with a coworker who was also stuck working night shift that week. We each crammed in a nap before waking up insanely early — probably 2PM — to eat at his aunt and uncle’s. His parents and sister had flown in, too, so it was a full and lively table. I was thrilled to do normal family stuff, like play board games and watch football. Later that night, I celebrated a 3AM Thanksgiving with Morning Edition staff. People brought in food — I brought in two rotisserie chickens — and set aside a few minutes to eat together. It was as good as a 3AM Thanksgiving could be, decent food and great people with an undercurrent of “at least I’m getting overtime for this.”
In 2012, I worked the night shift again and thus, there was a baseline level of surliness. The food, however, was spectacular. Linda Wertheimer was guest hosting as she had the year before, but this time she brought in an amazing roasted turkey (or chicken, I can’t remember). I made brussel sprouts. Other coworkers made green bean casserole and a sweet potato dish. Food was aplenty and staff had more time to relax at the table before getting the show on air. I also had a great meal with my roommate, who was also stuck in town for his job. We splurged on a Turducken from Harris Teeter and ate leftovers for the rest of the week.
This year, I’m not working Thanksgiving — it’s strange to say. Even though I have my own little family now (Alex and Spencer) and a quiet Thanksgiving at home would be fantastic, we’re driving up to the Chicago area to spend the long weekend with one of my best friends and her family.
Kate’s family is loving, generous, smart and eccentric, just like Kate. They’re the kind of people you hope your hypothetical kids meet someday. When a group of our friends, including Kate, visited Chicago a few years ago, we stayed at their house and had such a good time, we opted to stay in suburbia instead of going into the city for a second day. They cooked us an incredible meal and joined us for a wine-fueled game of pre-1989 Trivial Pursuit.
I may not be having Thanksgiving with my family this year, but I’m thrilled to spend it with an amazing one.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.