Guess Who’s Coming for Thanksgiving?

I married Mark forty years ago, a few weeks after Thanksgiving. 

When we returned from our honeymoon—or “wedding trip” according to my Southern mama—we stayed in Memphis for Christmas and then flew across the country to the Pacific Northwest for seminary.

Thousands of miles separated us from both of our families. Within a few years the demands of ministry meant that we didn’t have the time or money to make the journey home for the holidays.

Our annual pity party usually began right after Halloween.

“Ok,” my husband prodded, “we need to be proactive this year. You’re pretty good at getting us invited over for dinner. Why don’t you start dropping hints at church and throwing in some charming ‘y’all’ talk?”

“Honestly, I can’t do that,” I countered. “I dropped my southern accent in college and everyone will know it’s just an act. Besides, everyone who could possibly have us over has already done it…it’s our turn.”

So began our annual tradition of inviting families to join us for one of the Big Feasts. Our hospitality had a hidden agenda. We hated to be alone for the holidays.

Starting in early November we would have conversations like these around our table.

“Who’s coming for Thanksgiving?”

“No one yet. I’ve checked with the Turners, the Allens, and the Yakinskis, but they’re all with family.”

“What about the neighbors on the other side of the street?”

“I’ll invite them if you’ll start asking your golf buddies. Tell them they can bring their golf clubs if that will make them happy.”

Around this time our kids would pop in with their suggestions. They each wanted to make sure at least one friend their age was coming. The youngest ran off to get her class roster. She was a budding telemarketer, willing to systematically call every name on the list to invite a friend over after school. We put her to work.

Our son, who would rather make his bed than make a phone call, volunteered to plan some games for the younger kids. Our oldest, a born administrator, was all set to draw up the seating chart and write place cards.

But first we needed some customers, I mean, guests.

Halfway through November my husband arrived home to announce that three families had said yes. We tallied up the adults and kids and found that a respectable 16 people were now coming to our house to eat turkey with all the trimmings. Adding the 5 of us, we would be a merry group.

“I think we’re good,” I mused, “did you invite anyone else?”

“Hm, not sure. I talked with a bunch of people at church and called some folks from our health club and the kids’ school.”

As the days counted down to the fourth Thursday of November, more and more families called to say they could come after all.

“Where are we now with our guest count?” 

“Hmmm….the Smiths and their four kids are coming. The Eldenbergers are bringing grandma and grandpa. Oh, and the Merediths decided to stay home this year and are coming with their six kids.”

My husband winced. 

“I just told the nursing home ministry we had room at our table. They’re sending a small busload with a few of the nursing assistants.”

I took the news in stride. Forty five people were coming for Thanksgiving this year. 

At least we weren’t going to be alone for the holidays.

Now I was “raised right” by my southern mama. She believed in setting a pretty table, even if the food wasn’t any good. Flowers and linen napkins made up for a lot. 

We began to assemble folding tables and chairs, assorted table cloths and napkins to seat everyone. We used every piece of furniture in our house that even slightly resembled a place where you could perch and eat. Fortunately by then we had moved to the desert Southwest and could make full use of the patio.

“41…42…43…44…45. Whew! There’s a spot for every guest. I’ve added some extra pumpkin scented candles to the table set up in the master bathroom.”

“Make sure you close the door to the toilet area, too.”

“Of course! What kind of a hostess do you think I am?”

The next year we had grandparents visiting from the east coast for Thanksgiving. “Who’s coming this year?” Asked our eldest. “Nana and Papa!” I exclaimed proudly, happy at last to be hosting family members for the holiday.

She shrugged. “Yeah? Who else?”

My husband and I looked at each other open mouthed. “I’ll start checking with the neighbors…” “Ok, and I’ll call the nursing home…”

Those years shaped me to see others who might be alone for the holidays, and reach out. This recipe could be made in advance and cooked on the day, which helped a lot…

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8-10

8-10 russet potatoes 

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 cup dairy sour cream

1/4 cup melted butter

1/4 t garlic powder (or 1 whole clove minced)

1 t salt or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 t paprika

2 T cold butter

Peel and quarter the potatoes. (Do not put the peelings down the disposal, unless you want to call the plumber who will charge you extra on a holiday weekend.)

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and return pan to low heat, shaking to dry potatoes.

In large bowl blend cream cheese and sour cream. Add hot potatoes one at a time and continue beating at high speed until light and fluffy. On low speed add melted butter, garlic, salt and pepper. 

Spoon into a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika and dot with squares of the cold butter. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until heated through and the top is golden.

 

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