Last year marked the 25th anniversary that I have hosted Thanksgiving for family and friends. And, it’s a really big deal for me.
There are people like my sister, Louise, or my dear friend, Barbara Dooley, who are effortless at hosting and cooking. I stand in awe. Barbara is flawless in how quickly she can put together supper or a Saturday after-the-game party. She tells delightful stories as she dashes around the kitchen, seemingly never thinking about the food she’s putting together.
Louise will host a Sunday dinner for 20 people with cooked-from-scratch food that is abundant. I’m a good cook and I like to do it, but entertaining a group of people is not as seamless and as easy for me as it for Barbara and Louise.
Let’s just be honest here: It takes one full week of non-stop work and planning to host Thanksgiving Day supper for 25 to 30 people who will all bring a covered dish. So, I’m not cooking the entire dinner. But since I started this tradition – it began when Louise said, “Here’s what we’ll do: I’ll take Easter, you take Thanksgiving and Mama will have Christmas”—I have used an entire week to get ready.
I don’t spring clean. I “Thanksgiving clean.” I also put up Christmas trees, get the china and crystal ready, haul out extra chairs and tables and cook several things including my famous macaroni and cheese and homemade Southern biscuits. By 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night when everyone has left and I’m sweeping the kitchen, I’m worn out.
But the house is clean and there’s leftovers enough in the fridge to do through the weekend. On Friday, I pretty much do nothing all day long. Now, in the early days of this tradition, I worked two jobs including a part-time retail job which meant I worked the busiest day of the retail season and usually had to be there by 7:30 a.m. Thank goodness, the Lord delivered me from that.
Last year, though, the unexpected happened. It was two days before I started my one week preparation. I was on the elliptical, working out, when Tink walked in with one of those looks.
“Oh no,” I groaned. “What now?”
He took a sharp breath. One of his family – one of the dearest people ever in his life – was sick and needed several days of intense caregiving.
I nodded with sympathy. I loved her, too. “You’re going?”
“Well, really, it would be better if you did because there’s things you can do for her that I, uh, I…” I understood. We booked my flight for the next day.
The chief worry was Thanksgiving preparation but a good friend promised she’d send over her housekeeper to clean one day and the rest, I figured, would just fall into place.
But not as I expected.
The housekeeper, through a misunderstanding, didn’t show up. So Tink cleaned. He didn’t do the windowsills and baseboards as I always do and he didn’t get down on the kitchen floor with an old toothbrush and scrub in the crevices but he cleaned what people would see. Meanwhile in Connecticut, I took my nursing duties seriously, working with little rest. That, combined with bacteria picked up on the flight, had me very sick by the time the car arrived on Wednesday to take me to the airport for the flight home.
By the time I landed, I could barely speak. I was growing sicker by the moment. On Thanksgiving Day, I was completely without voice as 28 people filed in for food and fellowship. They talked amongst themselves, they laughed, they piled their plates high and they celebrated the blessings of the year.
In the midst of such fellowship and celebration, not one person noticed that the baseboards and windowsills were not dusted.
It turned out to be my favorite part of Thanksgiving.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new book, Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign for her free weekly newsletter.