At age twenty I had Thanksgiving in a Tuscan farmhouse. Which just sounds so nice and special, doesn’t it?
The previous spring I quit college and moved back with my parents to spend a year working at a landscaping company. I saved my paychecks and then used the cash for a ticket to Europe.
It was going to be this big exciting find-yourself type trip. First I would spend ten days in Tuscany with my aunts and uncle and Bubbie – who had won the stay in Tuscany at a charity auction – and afterward I was going to travel Europe by myself.
I’m so grown-up and sophisticated! I thought. I can barely stand how sophisticated I am.
Although I was feeling a creep of anxiety when I called home on Thanksgiving Day. It wasn’t any special premonition about the bad thing that was going to happen, it was just garden-variety homesickness about missing the holiday with my family. And I only felt more homesick after hearing the status report from Mom, the fact that she was sewing up the turkey and sliding it in the oven.
Of course, if you’ve got to be away from home on the holiday, there are worse places to find yourself than Tuscany.
We were staying amid thousands of acres of vineyards and olive groves, and the trees and grape vines were lit up in the oranges and reds of autumn, and everywhere there were terraced fields and ancient stone houses. Our own little farmhouse was at the end of a long gravel drive and hidden inside a courtyard that was crowded with gnarled rose bushes. They littered pink petals along the path to the door.
For my departure on this momentous trip, Dad and Mom saw me off at the airport in Boston. I gave them light kisses goodbye. You know: If you’re twenty and heading off on a find-yourself backpacking trip, you don’t get sentimental with your parents. No. You say goodbye like a grown-up, waving to them as you cruise toward the airport security line.
That goodbye at the international terminal of Logan Airport, one week before Thanksgiving, in 2003, was the last time I saw my Dad.
If the holidays are a tough time for you, I can relate.
On that Thanksgiving night in Tuscany, my aunt cooked a great feast for us. She took down copper pots from the ceiling hooks and sharpened the kitchen knives and rubbed a chicken with butter and herbs and slid it into the oven. We made pasta by shaping a volcano of flour and cracking an egg into the crater, and then my aunt cooked mushrooms in wine and butter and we used the mixture plus the rolled-out pasta dough to form little squares of ravioli.
When it was time to gather at the table we lit candles and drained bottle after bottle of wine while we feasted. With each tumbler of wine the night was all laughter, and Bubbie tried to tell yet another joke but couldn’t get to the punch line she was laughing so hard, and warning us over and over that she might pee her pants.
And this year, eleven years on, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to cook. An apple pie, made from Honeycrisp apples from a nearby orchard. And I’m going to make a big simmering pot of cranberry chutney – a recipe my Mom discovered some years back, one that calls for orange slices and lots of walnuts and fresh ginger and cinnamon. And I’ll make roasted Brussels sprouts too; the sprouts are in my garden and ready for harvest, growing like warts on the fat gnarled stalks.
And I’m wishing a good meal for you, too, on this holiday.