Finally, we approached the buffet. In addition to traditional fare such as turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, there was smoked salmon and caviar, sushi, and at least 15 different cheeses. None of it was any good: The turkey was dry and rubbery. The mashed potatoes were tepid. (They weren’t part of the buffet but had to be ordered separately. My aunt was indignant.) Worst of all, I couldn’t eat my favorite dessert, apple pie, because it had nuts and I’m allergic to them.
At the smaller Thanksgivings at my house, the selection was less extensive but carefully tailored to our quirky palates. I made garlic mashed potatoes (extra garlic for my aunt) and apple pie (less sugar for my mom). My aunt brought her stuffing (which she always worries is too moist). My mom contributed the turkey (which she always worries is too dry), a vegetable, and the sour cranberry sauce. My grandma brings a tart cherry pie for my father. There were always plenty of leftovers.
There were no leftovers at the hotel. We dined at several large tables in a cavernous banquet hall. I squeezed between the second cousins at the kids table, waving to my parents a few tables over. I missed setting our small dining room table with the tiny seasonal gourds my mom keeps in a drawer in the basement. I missed pulling the homemade apple pie from our oven. I missed lounging in the living room as the aroma of Thanksgiving drifted through our little home.
The following year, we had Thanksgiving at our house again. My grandpa had died the previous spring, so the group was even smaller. But now I knew that was OK—better than OK, even. I was thankful that I had finally figured that out.