By Annette Meeks
Driving three and one-half hours through the snow and cold to my brother-in-law’s home every Thanksgiving morning was always a stressful trip for Jack and me. The threat of icy roads, our car striking a deer darting across the narrow, two-lane highway or car trouble in the middle of nowhere –it was always a challenging drive but the nerve-wracking drive didn’t overshadow the best Thanksgiving that almost didn’t happen.
That Thanksgiving Day started out just like every other one in northern Minnesota: bitter cold weather followed by an uneventful but long trip to Ron’s house. Upon arrival, we shook the snow from our boots, delivered the pies we lovingly packed at home for the long drive up north and, with rosy cheeks, settled in with family in anticipation of a great day. We all looked forward to an amazing feast.Except this year when we arrived at their home, there were no frosted windows greeting us as we pulled into his driveway. Inside the house, there were no tempting smells emanating from the huge turkey slowly roasting in the oven. Nothing seemed not quite right for a soon-to-be served holiday dinner.
Not wanting to be impolite, I said nothing about my observations to our dinner hosts.
Soon my husband and I were called into the kitchen to help with the final dinner preparations. Jack was the designated turkey carver and I had the trusted job of mashing potatoes.
I cannot begin to adequately explain what happened next: the oven door was ceremoniously thrown open yet no gust of steamy heat burst forth. There were no tempting smells coming from a fully roasted twenty-pound turkey complete with stuffing and a green bean casserole baking in a side dish. In fact, there was nothing happening at all: our Thanksgiving meal was completely raw and uncooked. The oven had, somehow, not been turned on!
It was an unthinkable holiday disaster that had eleven hungry adults wondering what to do next. Our holiday appeared to be ruined.
If working for many decades in politics teaches you anything, it’s how to quickly gauge a crowd’s reaction to bad news and do what you can to avert the worst from happening. Springing into action, Jack and I ran out to the car and dashed into the small town of Walker. The sun was starting to set and the only store that was open was the gas station with an attached convenience and live bait store. I’m not kidding. We knew we were in for a shopping challenge.
As they say, necessity (in this case hunger) is the mother of invention. That Thanksgiving, we “invented” a new meal with what we could find at that tiny store that late afternoon. We returned to Ron’s house with a bag full of questionable groceries that would become our substitute feast.
While not the Thanksgiving meal you see photographed in glossy food magazines, I can attest to the fact that spray cheese from a can along with logs of summer sausage, crackers and Diet Coke topped off with some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and pie filled our hearts and bodies more than that giant turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes ever could have. That Thanksgiving we received the mutual gifts of laughter and of happy memories of holidays spent with family. In that cooking disaster, we discovered what is truly important about Thanksgiving. It wasn’t the turkey, the stuffing or even the creamy mashed potatoes. It was the blessing of giving thanks for all that we have and gathering together beside family and friends, some of who are no longer with us. It truly was the best Thanksgiving ever for it reminded us to count our many blessings even when they come from inside a spray can of cheese.
Today, many of us will not be celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. Jack and I usually host our gathering of family and this year we’re not able to do so. We’re sad about that but understand why it has to be this way this year – the year where everything has been turned upside down.
But I remind myself that the holiday is a day to give thanks and COVID-19 can’t take that away from us. I will give thanks for our countless blessings and start planning on when we’re all able to gather again in person and celebrate as a family. I’ll bring the spray cheese.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. May you gather and give thanks for our bountiful blessings bestowed upon us and our country by our Creator.
Annette Meeks is the founder and CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.