Most of my childhood Thanksgivings involved a trip to Grandma's house. But there were no horses, no sleighs, no drifting snow. (There might have been a creek or two crossed, and we did pass through some tree-lined streets.) There was no pudding, no pumpkin pie, and much to my annual disappointment, no turkey.
Grandma lived in an apartment about 20 miles from us, decorated with white sofas and Asian art. When Grandpa died, she'd sold the big house with the oak tree in the yard that dropped the loveliest acorns, in the hilly neighborhood where she and I used to walk hand in hand and peel the bark from the eucalyptus trees that lined the streets to fully enjoy their fragrance. Thanksgiving morning, my sister and I would get up and watch the Macy's parade on TV, which would end up being the high point of the day. By early afternoon we'd be dressed in our starchy petticoats and best dresses, white cotton socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. The car ride always seemed so long, and her apartment so far away, though the drive probably took us no more than 30 or 40 minutes.
We'd arrive mid-afternoon, and after greeting everyone, we'd be sent off to the spare bedroom with a ginormous box of Crayolas and paper to entertain ourselves until dinner time. The adults would enjoy a few cocktails and nibble on the homemade Chex Mix that Grandma made. For my sister and me, she'd make a small batch where the straight pretzels had been stuck through the Cheerios. We'd also get a Shirley Temple or a glass of pineapple grapefruit juice if we wanted.
Grandma was not an openly affectionate woman. "Give me a beso!" she'd say as we arrived, meaning a red lipsicked peck. She mostly was not a hugger or a snuggler or a reader of stories. She could be cold and critical and was at times overly prim and proper, admonishing us even as toddlers to sit with our legs together and to be "seen and not heard" when in the company of adults. But I think back to those pretzels, and our eucalyptus walks and know she tried to show us she cared in her own ways.
We were not the only Thanksgiving guests. Her friends the Beebe's were also invited (a couple her age with no children), and Mr. Beebe didn't like turkey, so we always had ham. Canned ham, mashed potatoes and frozen peas. I think dessert might have been ice cream, but I don't remember. All I remember was feeling totally gypped for not getting turkey like everyone else.
One of the things I enjoy most about being an adult is being able to celebrate holidays however I darn well please. These days, I host the Thanksgiving dinner for whomever wants to come. I make turkey and stuffing, gravy, a fresh green bean salad, and everyone brings a side dish. I have a small glass of Scotch (Grandma's favorite) before dinner and miss her homemade Chex mix with the impaled Cheerios.