This morning, I was scrolling a bit on Facebook and began to reminisce. I saw a post for a group I belong to called Knoxville Eats. Apparently, this poster gets together with her siblings and they make lists of what each person, parents included, will prepare and bring to their Thanksgiving celebration. I thought back to when my grandmother was alive and we had big family holiday dinners.
Perhaps my grandmother and her daughters pre-arranged who would purchase what food ahead of time, but that was all that was divvied up according to time and income. A week or so before Thanksgiving, Grandmaw and Aunt Dot began baking the pies and putting them in the freezer. Then, beginning the week of Thanksgiving, all females would converge on Grandmaw and Papaw’s house to begin the food preparations.
This meant veggies would be cut up and anything that could be done in advance would be done in advance. Like making the bean salad and shells with shrimp salad. The night before, Grandmaw would put the turkey in the oven before going to bed to allow it to slow roast all night. The next morning the huge pan of dressing would be put in the oven as would the candied sweet potatoes. White potatoes would be cooked for whipping and as people began to arrive the pickled green beans and corn would be put in kettles to cook on the stove and the pan drippings from the turkey would be turned into delicious gravy.
As a girl I wasn’t happy with having to peel potatoes or cut up stalks of celery or onions. However, looking back, I now see this as a wonderful family experience. We were all together. We worked together so that the next day we could enjoy the fruit of our labors, together. Holidays, after all, were a time for family and being together.
After Grandmaw died in 1981, holidays changed in our family. Aunt Dot’s house became the gathering place, but that didn’t matter. The family dynamics changed. Holidays began to be more about material things and in-fighting. In fact, holiday gatherings was when the family brought out their heaviest artillery for their battles of bickering and squabbles.
This is where I decided to forge my own holiday traditions with close friends.
As the years rolled on, I kept holidays in my own way even if I was alone in celebrating. I continued to make Grandmaw’s dressing, but my turkey would be much smaller and I would add a coffee/amaretto baste.
Then one day an evil dragon invaded my world and changed everything forever.
The last Thanksgiving I remember cooking was 2008. I enjoyed it as I was in remission at the time. You see, when a chronic illness comes into your life, personally or someone close to you, your world changes as it has been turned upside-down.
I stopped celebrating holidays several years ago. No one has ever asked me why I no longer keep holidays. I figure they just assume it is because of the Ménière’s disease. That is part true. When Ménière’s entered my life, people began disappearing. I guess I can understand in a way. I was ill and could no longer do the things I used to do with them, therefore, they no longer had any use for me. This is their loss indeed.
After the illness returned in June 2009, physically I went downhill. Cooking became harder and harder for me. Since I couldn’t cook any more to make the holiday foods I so enjoyed and had no one to share them with neither anyone inviting me to celebrate with them, holidays turned into ordinary days.
Back to my Facebook scrolling this morning. I came across another post someone placed in one of the Ménière’s groups I am part of talking about the stress that comes with holidays. Yes, I had to add my two cents to the comments. About three years ago, I got more into meditation as a way to curb my anxiety and stress which are a natural pairing with Ménière’s disease. For the most part I keep stress at bay with this practice. I also stated that when you have no family nor friends to share holidays with, there is naturally no stress which comes when having to be chronically ill and spend time with people who probably do not understand.
The biggest stressor I usually receive with regard to holidays is social media. I log into Facebook and scroll only to find people who are complaining about costs, spending time with family and the wretchedness of stores being open for business on Thanksgiving while saying how much they love their families and wish everyone a happy holiday. This takes us full circle. If we put aside material things and return to what the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Yule, Kwanza, etc. are all about, there would be far less stress and fighting in our lives.
Why do families need that much food for one day? Prepare a normal-sized meal for your family and donate the rest, or the money you spend for the rest to organizations that feed the poor, the homeless and elderly/disabled. Instead of buying a bunch of stuff to give as gifts, make something or buy small things throughout the year to give, just because. Donate the money to organizations which help people to allow them to help people for more than just two months out of the year. On the actual day of celebrating, spend the time loving your family and letting them know how much you do love them. There are many who do not have families and spend every day of the year alone. Cherish what you have lest it is taken from you.