by Valerie Nusbaum

It’s that time of year again, folks. I tend to get melancholy and sentimental in November and December. I feel sad for all the things and people I’ve lost. That’s why I force myself to remember and reflect upon all the good things I still have in my life, and to feel gratitude for the wonderful memories I’ve made with loved ones. Relax, friends. I promise this column won’t make you cry.

Randy and I have shared 26 Thanksgivings as a married couple, some more memorable than others.  I asked him this morning for some of his best Turkey Day stories, and he immediately launched into tales about when he was a kid. I stopped him in his tracks and explained that I needed stories of our shared Thanksgivings. I got a blank look from the man I cook a turkey for every single year.

So, here are some of MY Thanksgiving memories:

1994 — The year we were married (and just one month after our wedding), we hosted our first family Thanksgiving. Linda, Randy’s cousin, had given us a beautiful, big roasting pan as a wedding gift. We decided to use it to roast our turkey, and I thought I’d do it the way my mother and I had always done it, which is to start the turkey out on high heat and then turn down the oven and do a slow roast overnight. I put the turkey in the oven at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday night. When I checked it ninety minutes later, the bird was falling off the bone done. I’m grateful that no one got salmonella that year.

1997 — We visited my brother and his family in Vermont. Randy and I drove to somewhere in New York on Wednesday and spent the night. We struck out for Rutland, Vermont, early Thursday morning.  I had to go to the bathroom an hour into the trip. We drove for miles and couldn’t find a fast-food restaurant or gas station that was open. I was ready to do something drastic, but we spotted a Friendly’s up ahead. The place was closing in 15 minutes. The hostess said they couldn’t seat or serve us, but they wouldn’t let me use the bathroom without buying something. I cried. Randy, bless his heart, asked for two to-go cups. I thought I was going to have to resort to using them in the car, but Randy was actually ordering drinks for us, and I crawled to the bathroom. I’m thankful that Friendly’s eventually lived up to the name. I saved those two cups just in case.

2002 — Randy and I were spending Thanksgiving week in Ocean City. Randy’s parents were in Florida, visiting their other son and grandkids, and my mom had plans to go out with a friend of hers. Thanksgiving Day that year fell on what would have been my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, but my dad had passed away three years earlier. Mom’s friend canceled their plans, and I was worried about Mom spending the holiday alone. So, Randy and I got in the car and drove all the way back to Brunswick on Wednesday night, picked up my mother and the turkey she’d cooked, and drove back to Ocean City. We all ate a buffet dinner at The Bonfire restaurant, complete with a fire in the fireplace and football on the television. Then we went out to see the Christmas light display at North Side Park. We had hot chocolate and rode the train. I’m grateful we were able to do that. It’s one of my nicest Thanksgiving memories.

2005 — We’ve always had an open-door policy for Thanksgiving dinner. If we hear of someone who doesn’t have a place to go, we invite him or her. Over the years, a lot of my mother’s friends and in-law relatives have dined with us. One dinner that sticks in my mind is the time that Pat Smith was here, and we forced all the dear old people to make hand turkeys. That’s nothing nasty. Just trace around your hand on a piece of white paper, and then embellish the drawing to make it look like a turkey. I’m glad they were all good sports, and I still have their drawings.

2008 — Randy and I went to Montana to visit my brother, who is living there now. We were invited to the home of family friends, where I inadvertently put my foot in my mouth when our host asked us all if there was anything missing from the dinner table. I blurted out that we always serve sauerkraut with a turkey dinner. I don’t know why I said it. I don’t know why we do it. I’m grateful that I didn’t do too much damage.

There was the year my mother-in-law put her slippers in the refrigerator, and the time my father-in-law baked a loaf of bread and left the paddle in the loaf when he baked it. I remember the Thanksgiving that we took everyone to Hickory Bridge Farm, and one or two years when we went to the Epic Buffet at Hollywood Casino in Charles Town. Randy was not thankful that we had no leftovers those years. On more than one occasion I remember making turkeys out of large hand towels to be used as napkins. Our cabin steward on a cruise to Bermuda had shown me how to make the towel animals. There were chocolate-covered dates made to look like acorns and any number of special dietary requests and substitutions for picky eaters, but I’m thankful and grateful for all of it. I miss those days.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your holiday is memorable.

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