Holiday traditions will change this year. In a sense, that is not new for the spouse and me because our traditions have evolved through the years.
I don’t even remember what the spouse and I did for Thanksgiving when we came to New York (gasp) almost three generations ago. We didn’t spend it with our families; they were a thousand miles away in different directions. Perhaps we went to restaurants, but I don’t think so because we couldn’t really afford them. I do remember that on one very early Thanksgiving morning (like 2 a.m.; we were much younger then), the spouse and I went to watch the balloons being inflated at the staging ground for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It was like a small neighborhood block party with friendly chatter as we all watched Snoopy and Superman come to “life.” Over a few years, though, the crowds for the event became bigger and bigger. It was more orchestrated, and some of the ritual’s middle-of-the-night charm dissipated. We stopped going years ago.
When the NBP was a toddler, we started going to the actual parade. I can remember inching a stroller on the streets near Times Square towards Seventh Avenue. We could hear the music but often not see the bands or the vehicles because of the crowds. However, the balloons moving stories above allowed all of us, including the tyke, to experience the parade. In a few years, the NBP and I went a bit further north for our watching leaving the spouse cooking at home. We learned which subway exit to use for optimum viewing. We never left early enough to get into the front row, but we could see more of the parade even though I often held the NBP for long stretches for even better viewing, and my arms had grown several inches by the time we took the trip back home.
One year we had a New Yorker’s dream come true: We were invited to an apartment on Central Park West to watch the parade from balloon level. It was a new experience to have an unobstructed view and to be out of the street-level chill, but we found it antiseptic to be watching through windows. The crowd and its reactions and comments were lost, and in a few years, we had stopped going, never to return.
For years while the NBP was growing up, we had a tradition for the dinner. Friends we had known for years and their children would come for Thanksgiving; we would go to their home for Christmas. Guests or family members who were staying with them or with us would come along, and the numbers varied to a dozen or more for our then-preferred high-heat, unbrined turkey, but this tradition fell to the wayside some time ago.
For years, the spouse included graduate students and technicians from her lab. They were primarily from foreign lands and had not celebrated Thanksgiving before. Some years the students from mainland China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, and various regions of India brought their favorite dishes while we made traditional holiday food. The amount and variety of food was overwhelming and made for an unusual and intriguing Thanksgiving dinner. But the retired spouse no longer has graduate students, and this practice, too, has disappeared.
The best of our traditions, however, has lasted now for more than two decades. It will have a hiatus this year, but it will return. It has given me explorations of cities with the educations that follow. It has given me great food. It has given me laughter and thoughtful conversations. It has given me family and friendship. It has given me more people to love.
My nephew, raised in the same town where I grew up, went from college in Minnesota to Pittsburgh, and then to doing God’s work as a public school teacher in Philadelphia. He started coming to our house for Thanksgiving joining the others we had invited to dinner. The nephew, after a few years in Philly, met the person who became his partner and later his husband. The husband’s family is from southern New Jersey, and soon we had the tradition of dinner one year at our house and the next year in Philadelphia. Various guests always filled out the party. . Both the nephew and his husband (who went to culinary school before ending up as a manager in a architectural firm) are good cooks, and the nephew’s corn dish and the husband’s pies—he is an excellent baker—became essential components of our dinners.
But more than food accompanied our tradition. They or we would arrive on Thanksgiving in mid-afternoon, hang out, have dinner, hang out, and go to bed. On Friday, however, we would explore New York or Philadelphia. Over the years in Philadelphia we have gone to the Barnes Museum, seen the husband’s office, walked around City Center, seen an exhibit on Pompei and Vesuvius at the Franklin Institute, visited Philadelphia City Hall, gone to the Philadelphia Art Museum, shopped at the Reading Market, toured the Eastern State Penitentiary, and seen the Liberty Bell and museum. After Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, we have gone to the New York Public Library, the National Museum of the American Indian, shopped at Christmas kiosks at Bowling Green and Bryant Park, seen the Phoenix sculpture at St. John the Divine, gone to the Hispanic Society’s Museum, strolled through the Brooklyn Museum, viewed a Warhol Exhibit at the Whitney Museum, seen the remarkable New York landscape at the Queens Museum, visited the Museum of the Chinese in America, toured the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the Tenement Museum followed by lunch at Katz’s deli, explored Sunset Park’s Chinatown, had a guided tour through Manhattan’s Masonic Temple, viewed the wreckage of the World Trade Tower after 9/11, and more. We would find some place for lunch on our exploration and, of course, eat Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner. The hanging out, the travels, and my respect for the nephew and husband, as well as for the spouse and NBP, have triggered wide-ranging conversations about politics, history, culture, families, sexuality, the future, and the past. I knew little about Philadelphia before these Fridays, and the New York Fridays have brought me to places I had never been or not been enough. The day after Thanksgiving has become an important part of our tradition.
But not this year. Covid-19 has robbed us of our tradition. I am grieving.