Thanksgiving is just around the corner – a time for family, thankfulness, and traditions. When my mom went into a nursing home, my family thought it was the end of our Thanksgiving tradition – Thanksgiving Dinner at Mom’s. For as long as I could remember, Thanksgiving was always at mom’s house. When I was young, our grandparents, aunts and uncles came to our house for dinner. As we got older, started dating, and got married, we still all gathered back at mom’s with husbands and children.
I have the traditional memories of food and family. There was the traditional turkey with its stuffing and cranberry sauce. There were the mashed potatoes and the sweet potatoes (we could never decide on just one). There was the array of decadent desserts! There were too many women in a kitchen that was way too small. We spent so much time tripping over each other trying to get dinner on the table it was a wonder no one was injured!
I also have the more non-traditional memories. There was my mom who could never get the entire meal on the table when she wanted. There were the Thanksgivings when my cantankerous grandfather stormed out of the house because the turkey wasn’t ready on time leaving my mom in tears. There were the recipes that didn’t turn out right and the dishes that were burned because we were too busy socializing. There was the Thanksgiving that my dad turned to me and said “you do realize that this is the last Thanksgiving that Grandmom will be with us, don’t you?” Then, there was the first Thanksgiving without my dad.
Mom going into the nursing home was the end of Thanksgiving as we knew it. All of it was over. Mom was in a nursing home now. She was bedridden, requiring medical care that left her unable to travel to one of our homes for the family dinner. At first, we were wondering who gets Thanksgiving now? Where do we go? It was hard, mom hadn’t passed. She was still with us physically and mentally. She just couldn’t come to us. Did we really want to go somewhere and have Thanksgiving with mom not there? That was when we realized that, with a little creative thinking, we might still be able to gather at “mom’s.”
We contacted the nursing home and asked if they had a room we could reserve. They had the dining room that we could use between their lunch and dinner times. That gave us two hours for a dinner that used to last forever. So, we needed to be really prepared to set up and clean up quickly so we could maximize the family dinner time. We couldn’t cook anything there or keep it warm with a Sterno setup. So, as we cooked dishes at home, we wrapped them and stored them in insulated bags to keep the food hot. We packed all the accessories in an organized fashion – the tablecloths, the place settings, the centerpiece, utensils, glasses, appetizers, salad, main course, desserts, sharp knives for cutting, serving utensils, Ziploc bags and Reynolds Wrap for leftovers, paper towels and wipes for cleanup, trash bags. We had to think of everything in advance. We even brought music to listen to and toys to keep the kids busy.
The first year was hysterical. There was the food that went cold and the food that was still too hot to eat. There were the serving utensils that were left at home. There was my niece running into the sharp edge of one of the tables and giving herself a black eye. There were the boys watching football on a broken TV with poor reception but just happy to be seeing football at all!
Over the years, we have compiled other memorable moments and traditions. Now, we have the arguments among the grandchildren over who gets to operate the ice machine. Also, “mom’s new house” has vending machines that her old house did not. So, the kids each get to pick a treat from the vending machines. There are the lost hot wheel cars that suddenly flew from the dining room into the kitchen of the nursing home never to be seen again. We hear the moans and groans as everyone has to come up with the most important thing we are grateful for that year.
And now, nine years later, we have a new tradition – Thanksgiving Dinner at Mom’s!