It is Thursday, November 26th, 2020. I rise around 7:45am. Everyone else is sleeping soundly, but I need to get up to start the cornbread dressing. My Grandma always made has cornbread dressing from scratch, so I do the same. I could use a box of Jiffy as a shortcut. But there is something about preparing food from a box, and on Thanksgiving Day especially, that does not feel right.
Instead I make a dry mix of flour, yellow corn meal, salt, sugar, and baking powder. I gently beat the wet mix of milk, vegetable oil, and one egg and then add it to the dry mix. Once everything is blended, I pour it into two 13×9 baking pans and pop them into the preheated oven. While the cornbread bakes, I happily chop up the celery and onions, basking in contentment.
Growing up, I adored both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I vividly remember celebrating Thanksgiving in 1985, when I gorged myself on my Aunt Mary’s Swedish Meatballs before dinner was even served. Then there’s Thanksgiving 1992, when my great-Aunt Lula hosted our entire family at her home in Seattle’s Central District. A decade later we celebrated at my Aunt Deb’s home, her cornbread dressing so impressive that I walked out with my own tray.
“Girl where you going with all that dressing” my uncle asked. Smiling and waving, I pretended not to hear him as I ducked into the passenger seat, the aluminum pan resting comfortably on my lap.
2002 would be the last ‘normal’ Thanksgiving we had. In November 2003, my Grandma was silently enduring the cancer that would take her life three months later. She had previously defeated her affliction. However, when it returned, she did not have it in her to suffer through additional rounds of chemotherapy.
Two years later my mama was not present for Thanksgiving either, having died in July 2005. And for the first time in my life, I loathed the holiday season.
I did not want to acknowledge or celebrate the holidays anymore. Doing so reminded me of my loss. My heartbreak over the loss of my mom and grandma transformed my previous holiday joy into resentment. Now with a young child I could not ignore Christmas altogether. So, while I gave my daughter the basic Christmas, I ignored Thanksgiving.
Despite my Grinch-like attitude, my Aunt Deb reached out to me every year to invite me over for holiday dinners. I declined her invitations for four years. But in 2010 I finally said yes.
I watched as my daughter cheerily played on the living room floor with the Christmas gifts my aunt bought her, my younger cousins amused by my daughter’s joy. And when I sat at the table clad in white linen, passing around plates of yams, collard greens, and ham, it was familiar and comforting. I still recognized and felt the absence of my mama and grandma. But sitting there, enjoying soul food with family and friends who had known me since I was a child, decreased some of that sting.
Attending my aunt’s holiday dinners was one of the ways I learned to live with my grief. By 2012 I was able to hang up pictures of my mom and grandma on the walls of my apartment. By 2015 I began hosting my siblings for our Thanksgiving dinner. And now in 2020, I hosted Thanksgiving in my home with my fiancé. Standing in my kitchen that morning, dicing the onions and celery by myself, I felt completely liberated from the burden I have carried since 2005. Thanksgiving feels like my holiday again.