"We never eat that."
"I know. Let's get two."
Has it been two years since our last Thanksgiving shopping spree? Since the last time we stopped in front of the warm 'n' serve rolls display and decided that, you never know, somebody might want one or three.
It was a tradition begun in the 79th Street House. Tricia lived with us then. She and Caroline were 17? 18? A little too late, perhaps, to begin holiday traditions with the kids. But it hadn't been too many years since I could afford to do them up right, and it wasn't until we found the 79th Street House that we had the room. A dining room, even. With a new table and chairs from Dania. I made a list and the girls and I headed to Larry's.
There was a Larry's just a few blocks north, in the Oak Tree Plaza on 100th. In 1993, it was Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market all rolled into one. It was the grocery store that had everything. It was where the folks at the cheese counter could not only sell you a quarter pound of gruyere, but they'd grate it for you too. You could call ahead and order the exact poundage of turkey that you might need for Thanksgiving. They had fresh spices from India and heaping bins of nuts, banks of fruits and vegetables that weren't to be seen in ordinary stores, a bakery and a wine room. They even had valet parking, but I never used it. I had two healthy girls to lug the haul out to the car. Or the cab - come to think of it, I don't think I had a car at first.
Thanksgiving became an orgy of cooking, a bacchanal of hors d'œuvres, a decadence of pie. Turkey and gravy and smashed potatoes, pearls and pea onions (as we called them), sweet potato and wild rice casseroles, cranberry sauce made from scratch with real cranberries, squares and circles and mounds of soft and hard cheeses from France and crackers with Scandinavian names and mushrooms stuffed with Italian sausage. There was a basket of tiny fruits, another piled high with almonds, filberts, and walnuts. I baked two each of blueberry and pecan pies, four of pumpkin. On The Day, someone always made a run to the Blue Moon Tavern with a pumpkin pie and some fresh cranberry sauce for the feast that was laid out on the pool tables there. Some years, Blue Moon friends without families would join us on 79th Street. Lots of other folks stopped by. One year it was Jack and Teresa, fresh from their family dinner, just as we were sitting down. Jack took over the carving detail while Teresa snatched my apron, sat me down, and served us all.
Ten years later, the tradition moved to the blue house on 115th. Caroline's new friend Jeanie joined us - but only Caroline and I lived here at first. Then Caroline moved in with her boyfriend, and everyone got busy with their lives.
But every year, a week before Thanksgiving, we were all on the phone. When are we going shopping? Larry's had closed, but the local stores had gone upscale. I ordered my turkey from QFC, but Whole Foods had better cheese and crackers. And the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the four of us hit the stores. Thanksgiving itself had almost taken a back seat to our shopping trip - the four of us - me and my girly girls. We giggled our way up one aisle and down the next. "Look, Mom, a squirrel!" One of the girls was flipping something into the basket she didn't want me to know about. But of course I did. We all knew I did.
It's been two years now. I think. Nobody died. The girls are in their late 30's now. Life has taken them in different directions. My daughter is busy with her jam business that is especially busy at holiday time. Last year I went to friends, but it wasn't the same. It couldn't hold a candle. This year I'm buying a small turkey. I'm fixing some smashed potatoes and gravy and real cranberry sauce. I'm getting a package of pearls and pea onions. And I'm baking a pumpkin pie. But no one is coming over. There's no time anymore. And that's okay. There's someone I know who will love my leftovers, who will take half a pie. And we'll call each other. I'm lucky. There are so many things I love to do all by myself. I'm looking forward to it
But we aren't going shopping together. We had close to 20 years of that. We spread a glorious table. And that time is done.