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Meetups can help you start new holiday traditions

I was planning to spend Thanksgiving day alone.

The prospect of it didn't bother me. Everyone I worried about had someplace to go.

My two sons — one in Chicago, the other in Southern California — were having Thanksgiving dinner with their in-laws; my dad in Ohio had all my siblings to cook turkey and pumpkin pie for him.

I'd catch up on some writing and cook a turkey breast for me and the cats to nibble on (for weeks) and watch football.

But as the last Thursday in November grew nearer, I started to dread the thought of being alone. I went back and forth between bucking up and breaking down. My heart ached.

I missed my mom. She died in August and I should have known how sad the first holidays without her would be.

Before moving to Florida in 2008, Thanksgiving was always at my house — because I had the biggest, most suitable-for-entertaining house for feeding an immediate family of 30 people, not because I was top chef. Nope, my mother kept that role no matter where we actually sat down to eat.

The night before Thanksgiving, I'd go over to her house to get the electric roaster from the basement and to get quizzed — yes, the same scene played out every year — about where the turkey(s) happened to be at that moment. (Salmonella is always a worry with thawed birds, you know.) Once she was assured (or I convinced her, anyway) they were under proper refrigeration, we'd sit at the kitchen table and go over the menu she had written in a spiral notebook, ostensibly to make sure there was enough food just in case Caligula dropped in.

My mother contributed much to the meal but nothing more important than her piece de resistance: the dressing. She got up at the crack of dawn every Thanksgiving and made a bowl of it so big I had to wrap my arms around the rim to carry it home. In our family, we'd say, "Anyone can cook a turkey but only Mom can make the dressing." It was either her special touch or the 2 pounds of butter she used — or both.

Anyway, all these thoughts of my mom made me sad and homesick and lonely — but not for long.

I found meetup.com, a network of groups of people with shared interests defining itself as "neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something."

And then I got up the courage to join 40 strangers for a holiday that had always been about family — and it was great. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. Many were first-timers like me. It was not a familiar Thanksgiving but it was a happy one.

So, if — as Christmas draws closer — you find yourself alone and down in the dumps, pull yourself up off the couch and get out in the world — with old friends or those you haven't even met yet.

Because new traditions can often turn out to be the best traditions.

Patti Ewald can be reached at pewald@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8746.

Meetups can help you start new holiday traditions 12/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 13, 2013 6:25pm]
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