In the Suburbs: A different, albeit important, Thanksgiving for all of us

Thanksgiving 2019, we joined 20 members of my wife’s family for our annual trip to Virginia. My niece and nephew, probably among the most gracious hosts we’ve ever known, opened their home for four days of nonstop snacking, eating and drinking.

And last year was particularly wonderful because everyone had the chance to meet our newest grandchild, Caleb, and my niece made this incredible picture cake so we could celebrate my wife’s 76th birthday early.

Oh, I’m sorry. Was I talking about last Thanksgiving? Forgive me, because it was just my way of trying to make the best of what will probably be the loneliest Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent. Like millions of others across this pandemic-laden country of ours, we’ve pulled the plug on seeing our daughter and grandsons, traveling in lines of traffic to reach Virginia, hugging loved ones we haven’t seen for a year and stuffing ourselves with turkey, homemade stuffing, my wife’s wonderful roasted vegetables and some amazing dessert from my niece who made last year’s cake.

We’re sad, but hardly downtrodden. My niece from Chicago has arranged a huge Zoom call for 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving, just about the time we’d be breaking out the 5 different kinds of wine we always bring for the holiday. I always keep a few extra bottles, so my wife and I will be breaking out our own bottle.

We’ll be arranging our own snack tray to enjoy during the call, and we’ll just remain muted while we crunch on crackers and whatever. Our daughter from Michigan and her husband, now recovering from their unexpected cases of COVID-19, will join us so we can see that they are definitely getting better.

My niece will be the host and mediator, especially when it comes to the divergent views on politics shared by various members of the family. As she told me last night when I strongly suggested that politics be kept off limits, “I will have the ability to mute or unmute everyone and I’m not letting anything get out of hand. I will also be sure that the call doesn’t become a free-for-all so the quieter folk in the family can get a chance to participate in the conversation.”

Once our call ends, we will reheat the special treat we are getting from Ralph and Rich’s Restaurant in Bridgeport — their special prime rib. My wife said that, since we’re in control of our own menu this year, she would prefer not to cook, not to entertain and not be on her feet for hours.

“How about prime rib?” she suggested.

“Sold in a heartbeat,” I responded happily.

To keep things semi economical, we decided to put together our own side dishes, so my wife picked up just sweet potatoes and a small amount of other vegetables for her roasted vegetable dish, which is always a hit. The olive oil and the seasonings ooze through the mixture and give a real “to die for” flavor.

We’ll set our beautiful Thanksgiving snack tables in our sewing room/den, make sure our 16-year-old Jack Russell has done his regular two-hour pee and poop, so we can enjoy a full meal, and is resting with his older companion, our new rescue Blake. And then we’ll feast with the background of a beautiful Hallmark tear-jerker, or four or five.

And when we’re stuffed with delicious prime rib, we’ll break out the wonderful Eli’s vegan chocolate cheese cake my wife ordered and wrap up our Thanksgiving dinner. There will be no dishes, just those wonderful, deep dish paper plates so we don’t spill anything.

And much as we adore our daughter and the grandsons, we won’t have Caleb’s after-dinner screeching and Lucas racing his fire truck around the living room. We asked our daughter if she’d consider dropping off some of her leftover turkey and sides on Friday, saying a quick hello and goodbye and going back home. She was more than happy to oblige.

Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, we truly are looking forward to Thanksgiving, prime rib and all.

There really are no words to describe what kind of a year this has been for all of us, but there are so many words of hope and thanksgiving that do describe how grateful and lucky we have been, especially with so many losing their lives to this horrible illness.

I have shed more than a few tears when I watch MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace and her regular coverage of people lost to the virus and was deeply saddened to learn about Dennis Scinto’s passing just in the last week. And, of course, I still mourn the loss of Angel, one of my favorite waiters, and am grateful for having known him.

I count myself so blessed all year and especially this year to be surrounded by our loving daughter and grandsons and by our other loving daughter and her husband in Michigan and we are praying they win their COVID battle soon. Of course our wonderful close friends, new friends with two legs and four legs and the many teachers I work with and colleagues at the Fairfield University Bookstore are especially special to me in this age of pandemic.

Of course, my true blessing this Thanksgiving and everyday of any year is my wife, the love of my life, and the person with whom I share so much.

So whether you are doing a small family gathering or just vegging out alone like we are, please be safe and stay healthy. And please follow COVID-19 guidelines no matter how much of a nuisance you think they are. I no longer take anything for granted. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.