Will the pandemic gobble up Thanksgiving get-togethers?

| October 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

A WELCOMING TABLE from a Thanksgiving past with the McDermott Family. Left to right, John McDermott, friends Ramona Mallory and Chris Vance, Beate Kessler-McDermott, German foreign exchange student Victoria Putze, Zack Hughes.

Thanksgiving is second only to Christmas as America’s favorite holiday. This family gorge-fest has been widely celebrated since Sarah Josepha Hale, founder of “American Ladies Magazine” and writer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” convinced President Abraham Lincoln to declare it a national holiday in 1863.

With this country in a second and perhaps third COVID-19 wave, are we still planning to gather together in 2020? Or do we risk sharing the virus along with the turkey and stuffing?

Guest-free November

“My husband is from Massachusetts, so Thanksgiving is the ‘it’ holiday of the year,” states Beate Kessler-McDermott, explaining that her family is German and that Thanksgiving wasn’t a big deal growing up. Now, however, “We usually do a gigundo Thanksgiving” in their Windsor Square home, welcoming up to 14 people, including their three grown daughters, friends, “strays,” and even foreign exchange students. Her husband Neil takes charge of the turkey and cranberry sauce. Kessler-McDermott is responsible for the pumpkin pie and hors d’oeuvre, including crab dip, shrimp and popovers.

This year is different, of course. Worried about their health, the McDermotts are resigned to a guest-free November, but she nevertheless wants to do something to mark the holiday. They may change their minds, but they’ve reserved a casita in La Quinta where they can easily socially distance and eat outdoors under the warm desert sun. Kessler-McDermott explains, “It might be strange in our big house. It’s too weird to be alone there.”

Caravan to desert

SUE CARR AND DAUGHTER Courtney Macker pictured with a feast from the past.

“Alone” is not what Sue Carr has in mind for the holiday. “Everyone’s been really healthy and smart,” insists Carr of the 22 to 24 family members who hope to continue their Palm Springs Thanksgiving tradition this year. “I’m not terrified. Life is full of risks.” Her son-in-law’s family owns two houses there, and they rent another one. The grandparents, children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws spread out over the properties. The Windsor Square resident takes the holiday seriously, making certain that not only the food is perfect, but the décor is, too. “I pack up and bring our silver, china and fine linens.” Once there, everyone has assignments. Carr explains, “My daughter Courtney cooks two giant turkeys. Some people do fabulous potatoes. Some just bring flowers.”

Ritz Cracker stuffing

THANKSGIVING SOIRÉES were a tradition at the Johnson-Marcil home.

Julia Johnson also generally hosts large Thanksgiving dinners. “Usually we have about 25 people in the backyard for Thanksgiving,” she says. “It’s really fun.” She, her husband Chris Marcil and their children Will and Coco invite various friends to join them al fresco. She continues, “My husband loves to cook and cooks almost everything.” He often prepares a heritage turkey; one year he cooked a turducken. One thing Marcil must make every year is Ritz Cracker stuffing. “This sounds hilarious,” she admits, “but you should make it. It’s the best thing! Chris always makes an extra bowl just for me!”

Last year, Johnson skipped Thanksgiving because she was on deadline to finish her second novel, “Better Luck Next Time,” due out in January. Their children didn’t travel home from college and husband Chris went to his mother’s house for the meal. That year, the Wilcox Avenue resident realized it was okay to shed the Thanksgiving burden.

Johnson’s fine with skipping the big gathering this year, too, considering it “a perk of COVID.” Of course, her husband still has to provide a vat of Ritz Cracker stuffing.

Snapping beans

PRE-PANDEMIC THANKSGIVING with the John and Andrea Meigs family. Clockwise from lower left, daughter Avery, daughter Isabella, Ann Avery (John’s grandmother), Darryl Meigs, Darryl Meigs Jr., John Meigs Sr. (John’s father), DaVonne Meigs, Dorothy Nelson (Andrea’s mother), Kameron Nelson, daughter Calla, John Meigs Jr., Connie Meigs (John’s mother). Not pictured: Andrea Meigs, photographer.

Andrea Meigs knows 2020 won’t be a normal holiday when the whole family does not congregate at their N. Las Palmas home. “My mom will be here,” Meigs thinks out loud, “and our kids Avery, Isabella and Calla. My husband, John. My in-laws might stop by.”

She thinks the rest of the extended family will divide among other households in this time of the virus. Regardless, their usual feast will happen. “I make yams. My daughter likes the melted marshmallows on top. My husband John makes orange glazed duck. I make string beans.” Making the beans is important to Meigs because it reminds her of Thanksgiving with her childhood family. “I would come home from college and stay up late the night before and snap the beans with my father. My children do it with me now.”

And that’s really the reason so many are trying to find a way to somehow commemorate the occasion in the midst of COVID-19. Family tradition, especially now, connects and heals us.

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Category: People

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