It started with…nothing.
For years, Thanksgiving was a blank slate to me. Or at least something that other families celebrated with a large table, many family members from grandparents to aunts to uncles to cousins to second cousins to first cousins once removed, and a roasted turkey.
I don’t know if I ever had a turkey until my late teens when my dad “accidentally” brought us to a church where they were serving (free) Thanksgiving meals. When we walked in, I realized immediately that the meals were for the needy. We weren’t in need. The only needy thing was that we didn’t have Thanksgiving. Because my mom worked on Thanksgiving, not because she needed to, but because she chose to for the overtime. We didn’t need the overtime pay, but the lure was enough.
When my aunt and uncle moved to the Bay Area in my late twenties, we suddenly had an annual Thanksgiving meal like the ones I had seen on screen. They had formed a close-knit community at their church in the suburbs of Chicago and brought that tradition with them to my family. My parents had never formed bonds like that.
And this year, even though I never formed bonds, I missed it. Although I had gripes—mostly of the familial kind—a sharp divide between conservative and liberal viewpoints, how all women in the family (including myself) would try to one-up each other in dish-making, and awkward showmanship of bragging throughout the year.
Chris and I stood in line then at the House of Prime Rib instead. Orders (rather than the half or full prime rib) had to be taken in person. Chris had been against the whole idea because he believed that things like this should be eaten in person, but I insisted that this wouldn’t be around for awhile. And how long will this last? How long will his PCS last? I had initially thought that the line was going to be short. Maybe 10 minutes before ordering. But as we pulled up on Van Ness, I realized that no, it stretched down the block and once I got out, I saw that it stretched further than that, snaking down Polk Street. I jogged to the end.
This is where I want to describe the hopes and dreams dashed. It’s San Francisco of course so (I think) everyone wore masks. Most were Asian. Giggles rumbled through the crowd as we couldn’t believe that we were waiting. I messaged Chris to go pick up some time-passing materials—the Switch, a kindle, an extra phone. What else would we do on Thanksgiving? Would we do everything that we always did?
I have constantly been wondering why I panic at the idea of full reopening, with no restrictions. The feeling that now people can see me in full without a mask, for some reason, terrifies me. The fact that I am expected to be within six feet of other people scares me. The fact that I’ll have to talk to more strangers, more acquaintances…when I find myself struggling to even order and come up words…generates anxiety.
The chilly San Francisco winter air froze my fingers as I read on my kindle and the words blurred. I finally acqueised to Chris’ suggestions to sit in the car while he stood in line without any jacket. I told myself that I was weak for not being able to brave fifty degree weather.
There’s something tragic about the line. The way that we were there to get prime rib steaks, hastily blurted at the order after temperature checks and before a plastic divider to the host. A sign listed out the desserts and I threw in a cheesecake. Then we sat in the dining room—everything heavily spaced apart. A server calls my name “Jennifer? Jennifer?”
“Is that me?” I say, unsure since there’s a lot of Jennifers.
She brings the black tray with my card and it feels like I am in a restaurant again. But the bottom half of our face is hidden. I have entered the frame of thanking. I write in the gratuity and it feels almost normal as I calculate the total and sign, turning over the receipt. Music plays. I know that the restaurant has been outfitted with a state of the art HVAC system and I can feel the air blowing across my now unshivering fingers.
We later pull out the boxes from the bag—both King Henry cuts. I had it seared with creamed corn. Chris had added fixings to his mashed potatoes and extra horseradish. The boxes take up more than half of the dining room table with containers for sour cream, green onions, mild and spicy horseradish, bacon crumbles, the two steaks, gravy, au jus, and the separated container for Yorkshire pudding, our chosen side, and mashed potatoes.
We were alone and ate quietly into the night.