I decided to take the reins of a family holiday for the first time during my oldest daughter's first Thanksgiving.
My husband and I both wanted to spend the day with our sides of the family, so it seemed like the perfect compromise. Twice the family, tiny house, completely inexperienced hostess. For some reason, nothing about that sounded like disaster to me.
Always ready to help, my family did their best to minimize my chances of screwing up to-do list. One cousin volunteered to cook the turkey, and another promised to bring the homemade noodles that are a staple of our family events. She would bring the noodles; I just had to provide a big pot and the cornstarch. All I really had to do to prepare was clean my house and whip up desserts. What could go wrong?
The big day arrived, along with the first snow of the year. With the flurries came our first unexpected obstacle — parking. I don't have a driveway. On-street parking isn't an issue with one or two extra cars, but we had about 10 arriving that day. Add in the snow and you have a recipe for disaster. I still cringe thinking about my 83-year-old grandma trudging uphill from the bottom of the street to my house on an icy sidewalk. Not the kind of welcome I expected to greet my guests with.
Once everyone had arrived and was properly thawed, it was time to get dinner going. Thankfully, the turkey was already cooked. I whipped out my gorgeous, brand-new serving dish, only to realize that it would hold less than half of the turkey. My visions of the perfect table setting started to fade as I helped to load that pretty turkey into an old cake pan — it was the only thing big enough to hold the turkey that wasn't already in use.
Meanwhile, my cousin Mary was whipping up the noodles, and she needed my help. "I need your cornstarch, sweetie!" she said. Full of pride in my well-stocked kitchen, I opened the pantry and pulled out a box of... cornmeal. Not cornstarch.
"Umm... will this work?" I asked, as my confidence shrank to the size of a mouse. She told me, as gently as possible, that no, it most definitely would not. Defeated, I stepped aside as the ladies of my family scrambled through my pantry looking for something to substitute. To this day, I have no idea what they came up with, but they made it work.
I moved on to the dining room, determined to salvage some of my hostess cred by prepping the gorgeous array of desserts I'd created. I set out cheesecake, brownies, candies, cookies and a chocolate trifle. Proud of my work, I turned around just in time for my grandma to check out the display. "No pumpkin pie?" she asked.
Pumpkin pie. How in the world had it never occurred to me to bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving?
It was time to dig in, and everyone but me started loading their plates. I sat on my living room steps and watched as my family filled the dining room table, overflowed into the living room, and started taking seats on the floor once the furniture was full.
I was crushed. How did I ever think I could pull this off? I was not a cook, my house was too small, and I had no idea what in the world I was doing.
Then I looked a little bit closer. Both my husband's family and my own were in our home, together, for the first time ever. No one looked particularly comfortable as they balanced their plates on their laps, but everyone had a smile on their face. The food was good (no thanks to me), we were all together and my 7-month-old daughter was cruising across the coffee table from relative to relative. No one seemed to care about all the little "disasters" but me.
Suddenly, I realized that no matter how differently my Thanksgiving turned out from what I had planned, it was perfect nonetheless. I sucked it up, made a plate and watched my mom feed my daughter her very first bite of mashed potatoes.
And no one but my grandma missed the pumpkin pie.
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