My Life in Thanksgivings

Lea Wait, here, thinking about Thanksgiving.

As a young wife, at the first Thanksgiving she hosted, my mother somehow managed to roast a turkey that was rotten inside.  Some women would have laughed and declared the day a vegetarian Thanksgiving, but my mother relived the horror of that day every year, and always cooked “a few extras” on Thanksgiving in case “something went wrong” at the last minute. She was clearly relieved every year when she carved the turkey and all was well, but she gave me a permanent nervousness about the holiday.

Helping my mother remove a turkey from the oven

My father, his sister, and her son, at our home for Thanksgiving

When I was a child my mother and grandmother prepared a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, which always started with shrimp cocktail, included a small glass of wine (Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve were the only days wine was served in my home), and ended with a choice of several pies, and sometimes an English trifle. The food was delicious, but most years our only guests were an aged great-aunt and my father’s sister, husband and son, who sat silently for most of the occasion. My one set of living grandparents lived with us, so seeing them was an everyday occurrence. For me, the day was one to be survived.

But maybe my mother was right. Maybe that first disastrous Thanksgiving was a harbinger of holidays to come.

There was the year my mother convinced my father to carve the turkey. He carved himself instead. Result? Blood stains on the embroidered white linen tablecloth, a trip to the emergency room for stitches, and a cold dinner.

Another year my mother burned herself, and sat with a bandaged hand as my grandmother served. (My father having proven himself incompetent at that task.)

My grandmother’s stroke on another Thanksgiving ended that day in the hospital.

And on my personal “worst Thanksgiving ever” I had a bad case of the flu and my small Greenwich Village apartment didn’t have heat that cold holiday weekend. My husband (not my current husband), who’d had just gotten out of the hospital himself, and was on heavy medications, had no idea how to cope, and we had no food in our apartment. We’d planned to go to New Jersey to celebrate with my parents, but clearly couldn’t go. Instead, when my father announced after the holiday dinner that he was taking a bus to Massachusetts to spend the rest of the weekend with a friend, my mother packed up little dishes of what she’d cooked and sent them with my father to the Port Authority bus terminal in New York, where my husband met him. My husband and I ate the cold food under bed covers, for warmth. It might have been cold, but it was turkey and stuffing and vegetables. And I was very thankful for my mother.

Years later, my sisters took turns hosting Thanksgiving (I did Christmas) for a few years.

My mother and my nieces, Heather and Laura, celebrating their birthdays after Thanksgiving dinner

Since my sister Nancy’s two daughters and our mother all celebrated birthdays Thanksgiving week, she made three cakes to add to our celebration, which was fun.

And then for a few years my father (by then separated from my mother,) invited his girlfriend, my mother, and my sisters and I and our families to join him for an awkward Thanksgiving buffet dinner at the Upper Montclair Country Club.

I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner during those years, but, always counting pennies, I’d buy several turkeys when they were on sale for the holiday, and once or twice a month all winter I cooked a turkey dinner for my daughters and my mother. My father never understood why no one in my branch of his family ever ordered turkey at his country club Thanksgivings, but turkey was an

My oldest granddaughter, Tori, checking out Thanksgiving pies.

everyday meat to my girls.

When my children were older, and the country club Thanksgivings were over, one daughter was a cheerleader and one a flag carrier at their high school’s Thanksgiving football games, and one of my daughters worked that day. I’d cook a turkey and a couple of pies, and everyone would eat whenever they got home. One Thanksgiving was memorable because while I was cooking, about twenty wild turkeys decided to walk down the center of our street.  Flaunting their survival? I don’t know. But definitely blocking traffic.

My daughter Caroline, cheerleading in high school

The first Thanksgiving I lived in Maine full-time just my mother and I were together for Thanksgiving. She insisted that we just have a chicken — a turkey was too much food for two people. Which it might have been. But we didn’t have either. Our oven broke down in the middle of cooking dinner, and we ended up eating hot dogs that night.

Which all may explain why this Thanksgiving my husband and I plan to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boothbay Harbor. I still buy turkeys on sale; we ate one just last week. So, I won’t be surprised if on Thursday we decide to order something other than turkey. And,  most of all, we’ll be thankful to be together.

Wherever you are, and whoever you share Thanksgiving with — I wish you a joyful day, with laughter and joy. And a fully cooked turkey.

About Lea Wait

I write mysteries - the Mainely Needlepoint, Shadows Antique Print and, coming in June of 2018, the Maine Murder mysteries (under the name Cornelia Kidd.) When I was single I was an adoption advocate and adopted my four daughters. Now my mysteries and novels for young people are about people searching for love, acceptance, and a place to call home. My website is To be on my mailing list, send me a note at
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16 Responses to My Life in Thanksgivings

  1. bangorgirl says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Lea. Thanks for so freely sharing your life stories with us.

  2. Great post, interesting memories. Thank you for sharing them.

  3. Great stories, Lea! Wishing you and Bob a Happy Thanksgiving – mangia!

  4. Carrie Pelchat says:

    I have a husband who LOVES turkey, so I’ve already cooked two of them. I asked if he wanted a Turkey for Thanksgiving since I’d just made one a week ago, he looked at me, “okay so we’re having turkey for Thanksgiving”. It’s just the two of us, the 3 dogs and the cat, but yes I bought a 20lb turkey, but on the up side I won’t have to feed him for the rest of the 4 day weekend. 🙂

  5. Patrizia Cioffi says:

    Thank you for your story which prompts me to say that 53 years of Thanksgivings has meant the birth of my first child Regina. Just one week later, on a crisp and sunny fall day, we brought her home from the hospital to my mother’s Thanksgiving celebration in Glen Ridge. Every year since, my parents and my two daughters have spent the holiday in someone’s home. My parents gone, I️ took over and now my girls do the cooking, this year, at my home. I️t feels good to have everyone coming to my house this yearI️It has always been difficult planning the WHERE WILL WE HAVE THANKSGIVING; in-law requirements come into play, but we manage to land on our feet, often together. I️ won’t underplay the sadness, the losses that have occurred over the years and how the holidays, generally, are a difficult time, and January a bleak month of post traumatic stress.
    Still, a hopeless optimist, I️ like to remember the good moments, give less attention to what is no longer and be grateful for the love that surrounds me. Thank you again for sharing.

    • Lea Wait says:

      So happy for you! Life has its ups and downs, and we don’t always remember holidays separately — we remember them mixed together. So glad you had many happy ones!

  6. Barbara Ross says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Lea and Bob!

  7. Emily Smith says:

    Oh !! Lea —I loved your post– I’ll think of you every Thanksgiving now. I have some unhappy feelings about Christmas so I can understand ! love to you and bob, lee

  8. fangswandsfairy(alt) says:

    We often go to Natalie’s in Camden but this year, with so much “crazy” in our lives we’re dining home, on our own with little fuss on my “Lazy Cook’s Turducken.”

  9. Kay Bennett says:

    You poor dear. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year

  10. Bobbi Reitzes says:

    Lucky you
    . I can’t remember any thanksgiving dinner until I hosted them myself years later. But I can Remember the food‼️

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