Key Pen and Ink


Cathy Warner

Thanksgiving In a Box

It was November 1993 when my husband and I undertook our first kitchen remodel along with the honor and responsibility of preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

My grandmother, who’d handed off her apron to me, would put every leaf in her dining room table to accommodate 10 of us. She pressed her best tablecloth; set out the fancy china, crystal goblets and a myriad of serving dishes; and arranged elaborate centerpieces.

On the big day, running on two, maybe three hours of sleep, she would dress up, tie on her apron, zip around her kitchen, then launch into the role of gracious hostess as family arrived.

She whisked lump-free gravy from basting broth and cornstarch, and baked pumpkin and apple pies with flaky crusts we raved about year round. Once her turkey wore a vest, collar, cuffs and spats of perfectly crafted dough brushed with food coloring and an egg wash.

She took a photo of that turkey in the kitchen and also on the table. It was her practice to photograph the fully decorated table, with or without guests.

In 1993, my kitchen had temporary plywood countertops and all the overhead cabinets were ripped out. But my oven and stove were still connected.

I found an ad for a ready-made, traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the supermarket circular, signed up at the deli counter and picked up my order the day before Thanksgiving.

At home, in the company of my parents, grandparents, husband and children, I opened the large cardboard box to reveal our feast:

  • 1 shrink-wrapped, defrosted, uncooked turkey
  • 1 foil roasting pan
  • 1 box frozen bread dressing
  • 1 box frozen mashed potatoes
  • 1 tub refrigerated cranberry sauce
  • 1 tub refrigerated turkey gravy
  • 1 dozen fresh baked dinner rolls
  • 1 pumpkin pie with a red ribbon printed on the box

In that moment, the realization that my first Thanksgiving dinner would be served in a kitchen under construction — with all the dishes served directly from foil, boxes and plastic containers onto paper plates and consumed by eight of us crowded around three sides of a plastic-covered table shoved against a wall — sunk my spirits.

I was on the verge of tears when my grandmother — given a reprieve from days of time-consuming preparations — began to laugh, and soon we joined her. We were all together: great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children, and for that, we were truly thankful. We would celebrate.

In keeping with tradition, my grandmother artfully arranged the components of our dinner atop my dining room table before we unwrapped them. Then she fished her camera from her purse and photographed our Thanksgiving-in-a-box.

Wherever, whenever and however you observe the occasion, inside or outside of boxes and traditions, may you find reason to laugh, love and give thanks.