Letting Go: A Thanksgiving Story

While Thanksgiving, a siren song of family togetherness, warmly calls, a hard truth must be faced: It is time to let go…

by: Katherine Binford

“Mother, do you want to kill the grandparents?”

Over seven months so far, and the end is not in sight.

Thanksgiving is beckoning. Much like the hypnotic chant of Kaa from The Jungle Book as remembered by my husband, who first heard it in his native language: “Confia en mi” Kaa crooned, “Trust in me.” Thanksgiving is calling to me, a siren song of family togetherness.

Family complexities have gone hand-in-hand with our past holidays, whether it be due to divorces, remarriages, reconfigured family dynamics, grown-up children or feuds. All of these factors have played a part in the annual trifecta of holiday festivities: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My ex-parents in law (the grandparents in question) have always been a part of our holidays since we decided twenty years ago that my divorce from their son did not have to be a divorce the rest of the family.

This year’s talk of Thanksgiving has become complicated, with discussions about life and death. Perhaps, it has more in common with the original feast than ever before?

Last year, Thanksgiving 2019, I made the decision to bail on the feasting and celebrations. Bailing from Thanksgiving is a big deal of course, but when you are the expected host that decision becomes even more problematic.

2019 did not treat our family kindly with the loss of my husband’s brother and then his mother, all within three weeks of one another. We were certain 2020 would hold better days, and last fall we were looking for a break, something unexpected and fun. Enter Maná, a popular Mexican band on tour in the United States. My husband and I promised each other that if they came to the States, we would go. The closest they were willing to come to the Pacific Northwest, where we live, was Sacramento, California. The shows there were ones that would cause us to miss Thanksgiving at home.

I am indifferent to the art of cooking, but I do make good food. After proving my worth at the oven for several stressful, sweat-inducing Thanksgivings, I had, in the last couple of years, availed myself of the delicious pre-cooked turkeys provided by accommodating and understanding local grocery stores. The first time I performed this stress-relieving move, I did not advertise that the food was not my own and home-cooked. Clearly, somebody saw the greasy plastic wrap in the kitchen wastecan, and several not so veiled comments were overheard and questions were asked of me in private corners.

I answered truthfully. “Yes, and if you hadn’t seen the damned plastic, you would never have known.”

Over the years I had earned Thanksgiving cook credibility. “We are going to Katherine’s for Thanksgiving, of course,” family members would proudly proclaim. “You can’t beat my mom’s Thanksgiving dinner,” my children would say. That credibility was lost on that fateful Thanksgiving, one where I became a Thanksgiving dinner hostess fraud whose food, home cooked or otherwise, will forever be scrutinized and questioned for its homemade-ness.

So, when Maná was set to play in Sacramento, a short airplane ride away the day before Thanksgiving, we thought it would be a wonderful time to take a break. I was perfectly happy to not be up at 5:30 AM on a holiday morning, hands coated with herbed butter, parting the skin from the sixteen pound turkey’s flesh, smoothing said herbed butter over said turkey flesh. It is not a pretty process. Hence the subsequent pre-cooked turkeys. Nothing more to prove — Katherine out.

I found out later that my proposed break was not generally well-received but my family was quite gracious with me at the time. My son filled the breach and had family and friends at his house. He made his turkey from scratch and I heard it was delicious. Thank you, Patrick.

Maná was everything I had hoped for. Several months prior to the concert, my husband had filled an iPod with their music and I listened to them in my car non stop, memorizing the words, tearing up during the melancholy ballads, belting out the choruses, and developing a crush on the lead singer, Fher (even 58-year-olds can develop crushes). I don’t regret that concert. Especially considering that a few months later there would be no more concerts. Who knew a few months later that we would consider not having Thanksgiving in 2020 at all? 

Back in January, I had thought I would be able to make my previous year’s abdication up to the family. I planned to go all out in 2020, home-cooked all the way. But unfortunately, Thanksgiving is a no go this year. I pay attention to the news. I understand the science. It is clear that I must discard the idea of a gathering in our home. It isn’t safe. Instead, I made reservations at three different Portland-area restaurants that may or may not have outdoor seating by Thanksgiving. I was hedging my bets by reserving three because surely one of them would provide completely safe, masked, and socially distanced (hopefully warm), outdoor seating. Never mind what late November weather usually provides in Oregon, surely it would be worth freezing and being soaked as long as we could all be together, I told myself.

“Mother, do you want to kill the grandparents?”

My husband has said it for months, “Cielito, no se puede.”

I do not want to kill anyone. Not with COVID, nor with pneumonia.

I have to let Thanksgiving go. I will cancel the reservations. Once again, we will spend Thanksgiving away from our family for a vastly different and never anticipated reason and I will mourn last year’s missed Thanksgiving as I never thought I would.

I’m glad I could never have imagined our current situation during the 2019 Thanksgiving season. I’m glad that I can only imagine a better Thanksgiving for 2021. I can’t fight and win the 2020 Thanksgiving battle. We will hang on, family complexities and all, but we will not kill the grandparents.


Katherine Binford teaches the little faces (in neat squares) of immigrant children on her computer screen by day and binge watches television by night, as her memoir languishes on her computer waiting for her return.
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