A Mismatched Thanksgiving
(Recollection From 2018)
Each year, we look forward to Thanksgiving dinner. And, most years, we’re grateful when it’s over.
There are travel delays and cooking traumas. And, of course, some of us experience high anxiety over political or cultural discussions breaking out over the cranberries or candied yams.
I enjoyed conversing with the Thanksgiving orphans my sister invited this year, friends and acquaintances whose families live far away.
I also got special pleasure from a pre-dinner remark my 22 year-old niece made, not quite a religious blessing but striking the right tone.
If you come from a place where you have more than enough, think of ways to build a longer table, not higher walls.
Oddly, the most striking thing that I recall from my family’s annual food fest occupied only a few seconds. It took place after champagne and appetizers, when we were ushered into the dining room and pointed to our seats. It probably went unnoticed by most of the group.
My sister Barbara, who is an incredible cook and impeccable hostess, must have found herself with a headcount for the evening that put her in an odd position. At sixteen, our group was too small to warrant a second set of china, which she has, but was one or too many for everyone to eat off the same Wedgwood pattern.
She decided to improvise. The subtle deviation in place settings was not lost on me.
A complete complement of Waterford crystal, for wine and water, rested above the big plate. Sterling silver rested on the starched and pressed linen tablecloth and napkin.
….But the fine china salad plate sat in the middle of a plain white dinner plate from her everyday collection.
My cousin Allen’s wife, Marna, and I joked about the unusual place setting when we were directed to that corner of the table. At first, we acted like junior high students who didn’t want to sit with the unpopular kids at the cafeteria table. No, YOU sit there. No YOU….
After engaging with the idea that something was off about this place setting, it suddenly became important to me that I claim my seat behind it.
It was SO BEAUTIFUL to me….precisely because it was a little off. It consisted of mismatching parts.
It was so WABI SABI.
WIKIPEDIA tells us that the origin of this aesthetic is Japanese and describes a certain type of beauty as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”
The underlying, or unsaid, wonder about this is ACCEPTANCE. It’s the incredible quality and nature of acceptance that makes the experience of dishes not matching or knowing that the fall flower arrangement we passed casseroles over won’t last the week filled me with special appreciation.
I have been sitting at my sister’s holiday table for most of my life. Last Thursday was probably the most enjoyable Thanksgiving dinner to date.
The food is always great, but I am usually conscious of Barb wanting everything to be PERFECT, perfect in a Martha Stewart sort of way. The bird’s skin, as presented before carving, should glisten in a wonderful blend of golden brown shades and her dessert selection should rival confections served for heads of state at Mar-a-Lago.
And this meal was incredible, but I didn’t feel any spirit of trying to outdo output from previous years.
This atmosphere of acceptance of what is and open sharing I had with the other people around the table, a feeling of being with family, even though only half of our group was related, was so beautiful.
My brother-in-law pointed out that the mismatching dinner and salad plate was a good metaphor for the gathering.
Yes, my family of birth was represented, but we also had the company of old friends, a new acquaintance of my sister’s from her travel club, my late sister’s husband and his second wife, her daughter and boyfriend…Conversation was easy and we all appreciated being together.
..and it was beautiful…
Accepting differences and the inexplicable way things that don’t match seem to go together perfectly is no small thing.
What a lovely post! Happy Thanksgiving!