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"Creating" the Perfect Holiday


I just wrote my article on a “Glorious Thanksgiving on Nantucket,” and no doubt this will be a wonderful Thanksgiving on this beautiful Island, BUT my article sounds like a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover—too good to be true—and, of course it is.  

Last year I wrote about how our “ONE BIG HAPPY “MODERN” FAMILY HAS A CRAZY CHRISTMAS.”  Of course, in the article, despite divorces, remarriages, deaths, my ex-husband’s numerous girlfriends, and disgruntled children from all the families involved, I made it all sound quite wonderful.  To quote from that article:

“This year, we will again have a “family” Christmas.  We will have it at my former husband’s new house along with his new fiancé, her large family, and our large and extended family.  The dinner—an amalgamation of all our favorite dishes—will fill the table.  I will make the stuffing and the gravy that everyone loves.  My daughter will make the creamed chestnuts that her stepmother always made.  My ex-husband’s new fiancé will contribute her family’s favorite dishes.  We will have our old stand-by—standing rib roast—which, no doubt, we will all have a voice in cooking.  My husband’s step-daughter’s husband will make the amazing popovers and Yorkshire pudding for which he is famous. The newest baby will be the center of attention, the children will all play together, and the tree—decorated with the history of all these families—will shine and glow. “

OK—as soon as I wrote it, I knew that what I really should have written is “Ha, Ha—Just joking.” The truth is that it was a miserable dinner.  Neither sets of adult children were happy with the relationship and, if truth be known, I don’t think any of them wanted to be there. I am sure that the forced hugs and the frozen smile on my face was rivaled only by the forced hugs and the frozen smile on the face of the new fiancé. The many dogs belonging to various members of both families whined in the back yard.  The tree was decorated with decorations that none of us had seen before.  Dinner was hopelessly disorganized, and most of us opted for another drink instead of trying to get it on the table on time.  Admittedly, the grandchildren, who were oblivious to all of this, had a wonderful time—especially since none of us were paying much attention to them.  So much for my fantasy land.

Last Thanksgiving was a bit of a disaster as well.  As a rule, my East Coast family always comes to Nantucket for Thanksgiving.  In fact, last year was the very first year that they missed coming.  Furthermore, it was the very first Thanksgiving that the three grandchildren in that part of the family had ever missed a Nantucket Thanksgiving!  As it happened, they were all set to come when my son-in-law had a slipped disc in his back and was in agony until he could have emergency surgery the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, so travel was out of the question. I had already picked up the turkey I had ordered from Bartlett Farms, and I had all the materials to make a lavish Thanksgiving. 

My daughter and the children were in tears until we came up with the perfect solution. I would pack everything in ice and load it into a large suitcase, which I would take on the ferry to Hyannis.  She would pick me up in Hyannis, and we would drive to Barrington, RI where she lives.  It worked.  It took two of us to load the suitcase into the luggage rack for the ferry, and two of us to struggle it out and into the back of the car, but it arrived safely, and we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as planned.  The kids made the pies, my grandson made the mashed potatoes, and dinner was saved!  Actually, given the circumstances, we had a pretty good Thanksgiving.

This year another bad back—mine—threatened to derail the holiday, but I think we have avoided disaster.  I was able to get in for back surgery on Oct. 18, and despite a trip to a wedding on an exotic island, my daughter managed to get me home from the hospital and provide help while she was away.  I am healing quickly, and I am hoping to be back in Nantucket by November 1—long before the Thanksgiving preparations need to begin.  True to form, I have already ordered the turkey from Bartlett Farm. 

This is true! There is something very special about a Nantucket Thanksgiving.  On November 22, we attend the preview party for the Festival of Wreaths.  Already Christmas is in the air.  Time honored Nantucket rituals usher in Thanksgiving and promise Christmas to come.  Thanksgiving day begins with the annual Turkey Plunge at Children’s Beach.  Decked out in Turkey hats, the whole family takes a VERY QUICK dip in the cold water, wraps up in towels, and heads home to drink hot cider, to take hot showers, and to start dinner.  The kitchen is the center of the house where we all work together to make the dinner.  My daughter brings her friend Cindy’s favorite dressing while I make our family favorite.  The children, are—as always—in charge of pie making.  I roast the turkey.  It is not yet November, and already I have my copy of the November COOK’S ILLUSTRATED open to “Fuss-Free Turkey with Quick Pan Gravy” and “French-Style Mashed Potatoes.” 

This too is true.  I am a hopeless romantic.  I want every holiday to be perfect—and if it isn’t—I simply imagine in retrospect that it was.  And I am not sure I want to change this.