There will be ghosts at Thanksgiving this year.
Actually, there are ghosts every year. That's what holidays are -- a measure of time, a comparison to the past, a look around at who has arrived, who has grown, who is missing.
I have always known that, but this year I am steeped in the knowing. Because this year, for the first time, WE are the grown-ups. My husband and I, our siblings and cousins, we will be the oldest ones at the table, the presenters of the feast, the tellers of the stories, the keepers of tradition. Thanksgiving is no longer something being passed down to us, but rather something for us to pass on to our children.
I should start by admitting that there isn't much to pass down from my side of the family. I'm the daughter and granddaughter of two takeout queens, and until I met Bruce, my Thanksgivings were spent in restaurants or eating reheated offerings from the deli's holiday catering menu.
His side, on the other hand, lived for this holiday. I've only heard stories of the grand galas at his great aunt's, where everyone cooked for weeks and ate for days. By the time I joined in, the location had moved to my in-laws' sprawling home, where sprawl we did.
Allen roasted the turkey; Noemi pureed and baked for an army; Aunt Evi specialized in two types of sweet potatoes, one with rum and one with marshmallows. The Macy's parade played in the background; there were always chocolate turkeys on sticks for the children -- who could number more than a dozen. "I found the turkeys!" my mother-in-law would call to say each year. Her tone of joy mixed with purpose meant the celebration could really begin.
When a fire ravaged that house one summer, my in-laws' main requirement in a temporary rental was that there be enough room for a table that could handle Thanksgiving. When they retired to a townhouse a few years later, the safekeeping of the holiday was handed down to us, their children, and we alternate hosting in Boston and New York.
But still, it felt like theirs, like something grandparents do for children and grandchildren, not something that was ours. We'd moved up from the kids table physically, but not entirely.
Then, one year, my father's seat was empty, and we filled his space with stories. Then my mother-in-law died; her sister stepped in and cooked twice as much in her memory, her husband brought the chocolate turkeys. Three years ago, that sister lay in a final coma on Thanksgiving Day. We didn't feel like eating, but we needed to be together. I tried to make the sweet potatoes, deciphering Aunt Evi's scrawled recipe; I think she wasn't quite ready to move on, because all I created was a gelatinous mess.
The next year her daughter, niece and I tackled both versions together and got it right. My husband took to making two turkeys -- one roasted, one smoked -- as good as any his father ever made. And there were always stories. From my mother and her new husband, my father-in-law and his new wife.
Until this year. My father-in-law passed away this summer. My mother will spend her holiday with her husband's family. That makes us the grown-ups at the table, and the stories are now ours.
"I found the turkeys!" Evi's daughter exclaimed in a phone call a few days ago. Let the celebration begin. Soon it will be time to hand the chocolates to our children and know that we are also giving them so much more.