Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 2, 2022

Thankful - whatever the circumstances

The perfectly-browned turkey sits on the roasting pan ready to be sliced. The side dishes - mashed potatoes, green-bean casserole, cranberry sauce, caramelized sweet potatoes, and browned dinner rolls - entice with their flavorful aromas. The heirloom dinnerware graces a seasonal tablecloth spread over a large welcoming table - a picture-perfect setting for the meal about to be served. Family members mingle with easy conversation and occasional laughter.

But reality sometimes intervenes on such imagined idyllic Thanksgiving gatherings.

Last year, husband Art, daughter Mariya and wife Miriam and I drove to Wisconsin to share the holiday with daughter Katie and hubby Matt. But this year would be different. While Art and I would still drive to Wisconsin to share the day with Katie and Matt, Mariya and Miriam traveled to El Paso, Texas to be with Miriam's family.

We drove to Art's family home in Appleton on Tuesday. Art inherited the house after his brother's death and we've been using it as a handy stopping place from which to visit relatives and explore the area. In this case, Wednesday we could recharge from the 700-plus mile trip and then travel to Katie's and Matt's place near Madison, Wisconsin on Thanksgiving Day. Matt's dad Craig and stepmom Mandy were driving from Wichita to an AirBnB they had rented nearby and would join the party on turkey day.

Everything unfolded just as planned - until it didn't!

Katie and Matt called Wednesday morning. Katie had been sick a few days earlier, but was now fine. Not so for Matt. After much discussion, we agreed on a "reset" to Friday. After all, our schedules were flexible and Craig and Mandy were staying through early Sunday.

While texting friend Bryce, who is a doctor, I mentioned the change in our Thanksgiving plans. At the end, I said, "Flexibility is the key!" He agreed.

It's how we can survive happily instead of unhappily. ... We have dreams and imagine how our perfect holiday meal/gathering will be. Then a vomiting kid or coughing influenza-infected family member alters our plans. I didn't come by this way of thinking naturally, but having almost every holiday since 1983 interrupted by Emergency Room calls helped me change my attitude. Now I simply tell myself, "I�m not the one who is ill. How lucky I am to have food and shelter." ... Whenever I think I have a less than perfect day, I ask myself how I would handle that day if I also had to work in a visit to the oncology center for chemotherapy ... and then go home to take care of kids and fix the holiday meal. ...

Later, Bryce texted again. His son Andrew, a Frontier pilot, was ready to have his plane bound for Tampa pushed back from the gate when an SUV drove through the fence onto airport property.

... Planes can't move until the airport is secured. Then if this "establishing security" process lasts too long, he'll time out for his maximum allowed flight time, and the poor passengers will have to wait for a new crew to arrive as he and the first officer stay in Cleveland or ride as passengers back to Tampa so he can fly his scheduled flights tomorrow. ... And flights coming in are diverted from Cleveland right now. What a nightmare for passengers and airlines and flight crews who also have lives.

The word from Katie on Thanksgiving Day was Matt was feeling worse. She wasn't feeling all that great either, blaming herself because she had been sick about a week earlier. She was especially bummed because her 30th birthday was also on Thanksgiving Day this year, and she wanted it to be a special one. I tried to help by mentioning that when you work in an elementary school where kids have all sorts of "bugs," it's no wonder she had picked up something. Plans were reset a second time for Saturday.

So Thursday became not just another "chill" day, but a chili day - canned chili with crackers for lunch. But for supper, we thoroughly enjoyed baked salmon and steamed rice. Not very traditional, but quite satisfying nonetheless!

On Friday, we learned that a friend tested positive for Covid on Tuesday and her husband now had it as well. It hadn't been the Thanksgiving they had envisioned either.

That evening, we celebrated our second reset with a traditional holiday favorite - a local Chinese buffet!

"Thanksgiving is on!" Katie's text announced Saturday morning. We got ready, loaded the car with birthday presents and the cranberry sauce we had made. But as Art was about to shift the car into gear, we received a text from Matt:

Katherine said my current way of getting smoking chips was "inadvisable" since I'm still recovering. Can you guys pick up some cherry or apple smoking chips on your way in?

The chips were for smoking the main course - Cornish game hens. The chips on hand were too large and Matt had been chopping them, but Katie wisely thought it wasn't the best use of his limited energy while recovering.

We fetched several bags in a local Menard's building supply store on the way there.

We arrived at about 1:45. Matt and his dad immediately turned their attention to the smoker while Katie and I peeled potatoes and did other prep work for our holiday dinner. And just like in that vision, during pauses in the preparations, everyone mingled and passed the time with easy conversation and occasional laughter.

The meal proved to be picture-perfect - beautifully-browned hens, mashed potatoes, green-bean casserole, glazed carrots, asparagus, Katie's salted honey dinner rolls, and three different pies. One was pecan - a favorite of Katie's since she was a youngster. I put candles - a "3" and a "0" - on the pie and lit them while we all sang "Happy Birthday."

Our celebrations certainly didn't unfold as expected, but flexibility proved to be the key. Our Saturday Thanksgiving and birthday gave us much to be happy and thankful for.

Top (l-r): Art enjoying a "traditional" Thanksgiving Day meal of chili and crackers; Matt's attempt at making small smoking chips from larger ones; dad Craig and son Matt with the finished fowls; mom Gloria and daughter Katie working in the kitchen. Bottom (l-r): Katie applies the butter to the top of the rolls; Art, Gloria and Katie filling their plates for the feast; Katie with her pecan birthday pie; Katie, Mandy, Craig and Matt before Katie opens her birthday presents.

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