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3 min Read
Published November 26, 2013

My Worst Thanksgiving–The One That Taught A Single Mom The Real Meaning Of Gratitude

It was my first Thanksgiving as a single mother. I had no family in Minnesota other than my three boys. It was a time to start a new tradition. That Thanksgiving, I’d decided, we would try something different than the usual. I savored the unfamiliar taste of freedom, having no idea how quickly that freedom would turn into failure.

I would not spend hours in the kitchen stuffing a turkey, rolling out pie crust, whipping potatoes, making cream sauce. Instead, we’d go out to dinner. We would have a nice, civilized holiday meal together, with pleasant conversation between three well-dressed, courteous sons and their gracious, unfrazzled mother. We would be deliciously untraditional and go to Sammy D’s, a justly famous Italian restaurant within walking distance of our house. Proximity was important, since we did not have a car at the time.

“Won’t it be awfully expensive, Mom?” Tim asked. He and his brothers understood far too well our straitened finances, and were careful never to ask for anything that might put a strain on them.

“Well,” I rationalized, “buying a turkey and all the stuff that goes with it is expensive, too. And we deserve a treat. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen every day.”

So, on Thanksgiving Day, we all dressed up. I put on the pretty wool dress that I rarely had the opportunity to wear, since social occasions for us were rare these days.

The boys put on dress shirts, nice pants, and sweaters. Then we all put on the heavy snorkel parkas that are essential in Minneapolis in late November and walked out in search of lasagne, Caesar salad, and Italian pastries. I might even treat myself to a glass of wine, I thought.

RELATED: Six Ways To Be Thankful When Life Drags You Down!

We were in a party mood as we walked the mile from our house to the miniature downtown area near the University known to generations of “U” students as Dinkytown.

The Worst Thanksgiving Ever - 1

And here was Sammy D’s – dark and deserted. It had not occurred to me to call ahead; Sammy D’s was never closed. Except today. “It’s all right, Mom,” the boys assured me. “We’ll go over to Bridgemans. We like Bridgemans.” We walked down the block and crossed the street, but we could tell from a block away that Bridgemans was closed, too.

In fact, every place in Dinkytown was closed.

“McDonalds?” I asked in desperation. Closed. “Burger King?” Closed. Even Grays Drugstore was closed. No one but us was on the streets. Everyone was home eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie.

The boys kept their brave faces, but I could see that they were getting cold and tired, as well as hungry. We had skipped lunch in anticipation of an early and huge dinner. “Look, Mom!” Ian exclaimed. “The house of Hansen is open!”

“Maybe we can buy some food there and we’ll go home and I’ll make dinner,” I said gratefully. If I could buy some hamburger, even, I thought, I could make us a dinner to be thankful for.

I was a good and inventive cook. It wouldn’t be Sammy D’s, but it would be good food. We went inside the tiny store, happy to be out of the cold wind and, selfishly, to know that there were a few other people who were not cozily ensconced with their families around tables heaped with holiday food.

But as it turned out, the House of Hansen had no meat, not even hamburger. No chicken. No fresh or even frozen vegetables. All they had was turkey TV dinners.

“We can still have turkey for Thanksgiving,” Bret said, and regardless of the challenges the night had brought, there was gratitude in his voice. So that is what we did. We bought four turkey TV dinners, complete with mashed potatoes and gravy and nondescript vegetables. We even bought a frozen pumpkin pie.

We walked home as the wind got icier, carrying the hint of sleet. We cooked the TV dinners and the pie and ate them at the dining room table.

RELATED: To Shop or Not to Shop: The Ridiculous Boycotting of Holiday Shopping.

“It’s an adventure, “ I told the boys.

“Well tell our grandchildren about it someday,” they chorused in response. It was our standard family mantra for disastrous situations. There was laughter, even though sometimes it was forced and weak, in every situation.

And I was thankful that I had three good humored, kind and generous boys who could laugh with me through the worst Thanksgiving ever.

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  • Jeanne deWard


  • Jeanne deWard is a writer who writes technical and scientific stuff for a living, and other stuff for her own, and it is to be hoped, others' pleasure. She writes fiction, poetry and essays, and has occasionally published in small journals and blogs. She lives in Apex – sort of; it’s really closer to Holly Springs – with her husband, Earl Barber, her pit bull Zoe-Belle, and their two cats, Kozo and Lulu-Belle. Jeanne has four sons, a daughter, and six grandchildren, ranging in age from nine years to 25. All my articles.

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