For the first time in more than 30 years, I didn't make a Thanksgiving turkey.
The only smell in my house was the warm aroma of roasted garlic and onion. Adding those to your mashed potatoes during the mashing stage brings a heartiness to the side.
My niece Natalie had some not-so-subtle hints that my baby red potatoes last year were too salty. I love her - so we cut back on the kosher salt this year. The damn things were bland.
So no turkeys, no two decades of the old joke about me inadvertantly turning the oven off instead of the timer one year and putting dinner back about three hours.
No jokes about the dill pickle soup I made five years ago. I ate most of it myself. It was kind of a potato soup thing with dill pickles and the juice from the jar. I thought it was great.
I tried a pumpkin soup one year and my mom was the guinea pig. She smiled politely because her son made it. I ate most of it myself.
And I escaped this year with not being ridiculed for opening a bag of premade, frozen alfredo sauce and heating it up thinking it was potato soup. I think I drizzled it over my turkey that year and pretended I'd created something new. I ate most of it myself.
So the house was empty this year. No pies baking in the morning. No Taylor looking over my shoulder as I prepped, baked, and carved the turkey. No wife trying to navigate the timing of the oven to get the scalloped corn, candied sweet potatoes, and dinner rolls in around the bird.
But I got something better this year. And I didn't think that was possible for a Thanksgiving without anyone in my immediate family around. Lee was in Texas, Taylor in New York City, and Kelsey pumping through our hearts.
What could be good about that? This.
I got to watch Taylor through a buffered video call make her first-ever Thanksgiving dinner. After watching her perform on stage in New York City three weeks ago, this was just as good if not better.
She got up early and called me and told me to hit the button that says "Video call". I did and there she was. Her hair pulled back with a few strands hanging loose. A plain white top and a I think, a few beads of sweat on her forehead that she would catch regularly with a small swipe of her wrist.
She made, and don't be wigged out by this - it works, a mayonnaise and herb light paste in a blender and slathered the entire bird with it under the skin and all. She had dry brined it with salt overnight in the fridge.
After slipping the bird into the oven, she showed me around the apartment of her friend, Courtney, who we've come to love for her friendship to Taylor and her passion for the Minnesota Vikings.
This place is a mansion speaking comparatively to the other apartments I've seen in NYC.
I had to get ready to head north to family in West Burlington with my saltless potatoes and aromatics. A part of me just wanted to cover up in a fleece, watch the parade, and miss my family.
I digress at this point to say that more than a half dozen people in Fort Madison texted to check on me and invite me to dinner. No matter where I end up sitting on a porch, the people of Fort Madison will always be some of my favorites.
Others are celebrating while missing lost family members. As I'm getting ready to move through the holiday on my own, I think of all them that I know, and say a quick prayer.
Taylor called back when the food was ready to show me the feast she'd prepared. It looked almost identical to ours. She texted me throughout the morning saying she was so nervous her bird would be dry... that there was no basting broth in the bottom of the pan.
I told her that's a good sign. The mayo concoction seems to have been working and she had sealed in the juices. It did. The bird was juicy and didn't taste like mayo.
It came out perfect, but they had to "redo" the potatoes because they were overwhipped and gummy. Love that. They 'redid' the potatoes and waited for them to boil and soften - again.
She had the jiggling mound of cranberry straight from the can. She loves the Ocean Spray, right out of the can. Crescent rolls, potatoes, and all the rest, including my wife's wild rice stuffing.
She did it. Every day this girl makes me proud. Makes me believe that I wasn't a failure as a father even though the destination of my life pulls me there regularly.
Seeing her do this "mostly" on her own and then dressing up for the occassion for this friend and her family made my Thanksgiving.
I'm thankful for what God has given me, and I'm bitter as hell for what's been taken away. I don't live in that grief alone, many here share that desolation, but in small gifts of the holidays we find a smile and even a laugh.
My brother's family keeps me laughing, Taylor keeps me smiling, and my life keeps me wondering.
I'm thankful for it all.
And we're all thankful again for the close to 1,000 meals served by the volunteers at the Fort Madison Community Thanksgiving. People got a meal out of the generosity of so many - something they can be thankful for, as well.
The holidays are once again upon us - but that's Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at email@example.com.
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