When my mother was still a very young bride, her husband moved her from her home in Philadelphia to their new home in Atlantic City, New Jersey. By car, this is a journey of 90 minutes at worse, 60 minutes using the expressway. Since my father didn’t believe in feeding quarters into machines on a highway that gave him no visible return for his investment, we usually went the 90 minute route.
Part of any holiday in my childhood was spent in a car driving to and from Philadelphia where first my grandmother and then my aunt hosted the family gathering. Whatever the season, we went to Philly to observe everything from Christmas to the 4th of July. One generation later, my sister, my cousin and her husband flew to Anchorage to share a holiday with me. Instead of driving for 90 minutes, they flew for anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. They flew thousands of miles and thought less of the distance than my mother thought of the 50 miles to Philly.
I wish I could say that I was so overwhelmed at having my family and friends together in my home that I was inspired to spend the week before Thanksgiving cooking up every traditional dish known to our family. But I can’t. What I can say is that I was totally unwilling to spend this precious time together trying to stuff a turkey. And so for the holiday this year, my friends and I started a new tradition. We bought our meal from a local restaurant.
Even as I write those words I feel the ground heaving under my feet as my nonna – my dad’s mother – and my dad turn over in their graves. Both were awesome cooks who could make a meatloaf a meal fit for a king. Their instincts were so sure and true that I can honestly say I never tasted anything they made that wasn’t just about perfect.
Since my mother was no slouch in the kitchen either, the days before a holiday were filled with the smells of Italian dishes that required time, patience and love to make. Christmas Eve alone required at least four or five different baccala dishes, to say nothing of the squid and shrimp. And if you’ve never tasted baccala – a dried, salted fish that had to be soaked for 300 hours before it could be cooked – I can honestly tell you that only an expert can make it palatable.
But I didn’t worry about that this Thanksgiving. My friends and I split the cost of ordering a meal from a local eatery that supplied us with everything from olives to cheesecake pumpkin pie. And instead of spending days in the kitchen cooking, I spent my days in Costco watching my East Coast sister go nuts over the price of their cashmere sweaters.
I can honestly say that of all the places in Alaska that I was planning to take my sister to, Costco was an afterthought – a place I had to go to buy some nuts. Who would have ever thought it would become her favorite store here? Who would have ever though I’d spend three hours in Costco watching her try on sweaters in front of the mirror set up for the bedroom furniture display? On the other hand, it beat stuffing breadcrumbs up a turkey’s butt.
I think I may have found my new holiday tradition. For all my friend’s children, Thanksgiving will soon mean the smell of a lovely restaurant meal being heated in the over while the adults enjoy the chance to actually sit and visit in peace. I think that’s a great way to spend the holiday.