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A Remedy For Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Everything about Thanksgiving reminds me of someone…

The pile of recipes in my recipe book, written by my best friends from college; a recipe for curry sauce I first ate at a friend’s house 20 years ago; family recipes from my mom and mother-in-law…

Making stuffing and hearing my mom’s voice telling me to, “Yes, melt a whole stick” of butter in the pan, bucking my low-fat diet of the 1990s.

Pies…and how my mom would give each of us a little scrap of leftover dough to roll out, spread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. I would roll and stretch and roll and stretch to make my little dough pastry as thin and wide as possible.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with my little family, I feel a little homesick…not for a specific place, but for the people of my past Thanksgivings, and for who we all were, at that age, in that chapter of life.

There were the Thanksgivings of my growing up years…my mom waking in the early morning to put a turkey in the double oven of our old midwestern farmhouse, shooing us out of the kitchen as she bustled to make a feast…and her bustling in the kitchen of the old brick colonial when we moved to Ohio…and how every year, my mom and dad would invite a collection of friends who, without family nearby, claimed us as their “holiday family.” I miss our “holiday family” members.

There was the Thanksgiving when my sisters and I, and their boyfriends, walked to a local tree lot, and brought home the Christmas tree, all by ourselves. I was 17, and I  wore a navy peacoat and a red plaid scarf that kept me warm and cozy on that bitter Ohio night. I remember feeling old, and free, and mature as we assessed each tree to try to find the perfect one for our family’s home.

A few years later, I married Rich moved across the country where we found our own “holiday families” since we were far from our own families.

We had a Thanksgiving in Yosemite with a friend who cooked the entire spread from the year’s Martha Stewart magazine. We had Thanksgiving with friends who mashed potatoes with a hand masher…and another set who made stuffing with oysters.

Our first year in Oakhurst, we learned to make our own Thanksgiving, with a $20 bill that we somehow stretched to buy turkey, potatoes and all of the fixings except rolls…that was the year I learned that rolls were a critical part of the Thanksgiving tradition for my husband. We always have rolls now…

There was the year we had Thanksgiving for 17 people in our 900-square-foot townhouse, with the table stretching into the stairwell…and the one I cooked when I was 8 months pregnant, serving 14 people dinner in our new mountainside home.

As rich as these memories are, as each Thanksgiving passed, I found myself feeling nostalgic; Yearning for the experience of the previous years…for my sisters and parents; old friends; and time with family members who had passed away.

I feel the same this year. There is a vacancy that is left by warm memories; a yearning to relive that time again; to capture those moments that can absolutely not be relived.

The nostalgia used to make me think I lacked something…that if I was just nearer to family, I’d feel complete. But now that I am near family, I find myself missing old friends, and our spirited conversations, and how the dreams and hopes we had in our 20s are different than the ones we have in our 40s – and how our kids are teenagers, and I want to hug the little people who used to fill my home with so much noise and toy explosions.

This year, my third Thanksgiving in Tennessee, I cooked the same dinner I’ve been cooking for 20 years. Rich carved the turkey, and as we served dinner to our little family, I paused to look at each face, because someday, I will be missing this Thanksgiving: The one where our kids were still in our home, safe and sound and eating the food I made. A Thanksgiving before boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and grandchildren. This Thanksgiving with a 15, 13 and 5 year old…and us in our 40s, healthy and in love with each other, even after all life has thrown our way.

Maybe it turns out that the best cure for that homesick nostalgia, isn’t to try to relive the past. It’s continuing to invest in making sweet new memories, with whoever God puts in my life today.