On Saturday we had a pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving dinner for 20 at our home in Burlington — and that’s not the record. Three years ago I believe we had 25 for what has become known in this family circle as “The Big Dinner.”
And indeed, the event lives up to its name, something that evolved from a Facebook post my spouse, Roselee wrote four or five years ago for a Facebook group dedicated to this pre-Thanksgiving weekend food and family fest that brings together her brothers and sister (with their spouses), their children (with significant others) and any other extended family or friends who have the time to stop by. I’ve written about The Big Dinner before and that column with a small photo gallery is at the end of this post.
But really, the column only tells the half of it.
That’s because we do this turkey dinner thing all again — but on a significantly smaller scale — today on the actual Thanksgiving Day. That’s just how it works out each year. We’re Thanksgiving People.
When we moved to Burlington — where I lived from 1984 to 1992 — from Cape Carteret in 2007 it was with the idea that we would one day host my mom, dad and brother for Thanksgiving. My dad never made it, passing away in 2008. But starting in around 2010 my mom and brother began driving 90 minutes from Danbury in the North Carolina foothills to our house on Thanksgiving Day. And a tradition was born.
It came with other traditions, too. After he graduated from high school and moved to Charlotte, our nephew Rossi Gould spent Thanksgiving at our house. Often Roselee’s college roommate would be there with her family. And occasionally the reporter on duty at the Times-News on Thanksgiving Day joined us, too.
Roselee is an incredible person by any standard — and I’m not just saying that because I was smart enough to find her then somehow convince her to become a Taylor (I swear hypnosis wasn’t used, though most believe something is fishy about it). As phenomenal as she is, constructing two turkey dinners with all the trimmings in a span of six days is an incredible feat. The Big Dinner assignment is formidable, ranging from 15 to 25 people. The Little Dinner (not an official title, mind you) usually runs from as few as six to as many as 11.
It’s a lot of work is what I’m getting at and Roselee manages to pull it off every year. My role is much easier. I make sure the coolers are filled, people have drinks and as best I can keep folks from congregating in the kitchen and out of Roselee’s way. I’m about 50-50 on the latter. People like to be around her. And really, who can blame them?
This year we had 20 for The Big Dinner — our seventh. Family and friends came from Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Newport, NC, Pittsboro, NC, Boone, NC Raleigh and Southern Pines, NC. We love hosting this family event, one that brings otherwise scattered parts together to form what has evolved into a tightly woven group. We are thankful to be so close today. It was not always so. As a family I believe this is the single most important thing we do. It’s a group effort in every way from the planning of games to finding our signature drink.
The Little Dinner today will be different this year. My mom turned 86 in September and would rather not stray very far from home or ride in the car a distance of more than 30 minutes. She’s not a fan of getting back home at nightfall, either. So today Roselee will cook a turkey dinner in the morning and we’ll drive it to my mom’s house 90 minutes away. Roselee will reheat everything when we get there. Then it will be the four of us — mom, my brother Spotswood, Roselee and me. It’s all freshly made, but a couple of deserts will be leftover from The Big Dinner. It’s not like any of us needed a new pumpkin pie anyway.
Today we’ll give thanks for the family members who are there, remember those who have passed away and express gratitude for the passing of another year where the highs exceeded the lows.
And we’ll also start thinking about the next Big Dinner in 2018. Tradition demands it.
The column from 2015 and photo gallery follow. Thanks y’all and happy Thanksgiving.
We created a monster. It’s called “The Big Dinner.”
Now, what came to be known as “The Big Dinner” didn’t start out that way. Not by a longshot. Four years ago when this snowball was put in motion by my spouse, her sister and her oldest brother it was relatively small. You couldn’t exactly call it a Tiny Dinner back then or even a Medium Dinner. It was some kind of Dinner in-between.
But we had dreams of a much larger event . . . one day.
So just how big is it now?
Well, big enough that several people marked it on their calendars nearly a year ago.
So big that almost a dozen people are traveling from parts outside of North Carolina to be there.
Large enough that the contingent from Illinois alone could take up most of Zone 3 in a commercial airliner.
Our turkey is so massive it almost required a safety seat during transport from the grocery store.
One group hired a van to bring people back and forth to our house for it.
The number of guests grew to the point that we needed to rearrange the furniture in our living room so the dining room could successfully sprawl into it. We then borrowed an 8-foot table from the Times-News to add enough length to our dining room table so a higher number of people could sit together.
But some will still eat in the kitchen.
And, well, it’s big enough to have its own Facebook page and event listing calling it, officially, “The Big Dinner.”
About the only thing we don’t have is valet parking.
Yes, we created a monster.
A big and beautiful monster.
SOME PEOPLE are Christmas people. They crank up just after Labor Day and generally go all Clark Griswold by the turn of November. Others are partial to the Fourth of July and put on elaborate fireworks shows at home for family and friends usually well outside the boundaries of state laws. And quite a few are dedicated to Halloween. Call it pumpkin crazy.
We’re Thanksgiving people.
I wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid, we had a few Thanksgiving feasts with my aunts, uncles and cousins at my grandmother’s house. But my father always treated it like something he had to get through in order to reach the Promised Land — a football game on TV. Eventually, he stopped leaving the house at all on Thanksgiving. Too much potential blocking, tackling and butt-scratching to miss.
Thanksgiving became something special for me when I met my future spouse — and her father.
I met her dad, a man known as Papa Joe, for the first time on Thanksgiving Day 20 years ago. I stopped by for an introduction on my way to work. He was tending his freshly opened Christmas tree lot, sipping coffee and eating a warm cookie. A year later, I was working on that same Christmas tree lot, which was a central part of Thanksgiving for the next decade. It was very much a family affair.
The Fraser firs arrived on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We unloaded them and started setting up the tree lot. That night we ordered pizza from a takeout joint down the road and relaxed after a hard day’s work.
Thanksgiving Day, while my spouse and her sister worked in the kitchen, I was with her dad and my brother-in-law finishing anything we didn’t do the night before. By the end of the day, a huge turkey dinner was about the best meal ever.
The only thing missing was my wife’s two brothers and their families. One lived in New York and later Illinois where he’s a chef and restaurant owner. Another lived in New Jersey and worked on Wall Street. Neither could get away on Thanksgiving Day. Their absence was something my father-in-law always noted with melancholy — until a customer would drive up during dinner forcing one of us to go outside and help.
Eventually, though, Papa Joe’s failing health ended our family Christmas tree operation. When he passed away in 2010, it could’ve ended our family Thanksgivings, too.
But it didn’t.
THE FIRST Thanksgiving after Papa Joe’s death was a subdued affair at our house in Burlington with my wife’s sister Annmarie, her husband, Ross and their two now adult offspring Rossi and Ariel. A year later, my brother-in-law Vinnie wondered about the possibility of coming to North Carolina from New Jersey the weekend before Thanksgiving, which would avoid a historic conflict.
We quickly agreed and the Tiny-to-Medium Dinner was born with the addition of Vinnie and his spouse to be, Tanya. We did it again in 2012. In 2013, Vinnie’s daughter, Megan, decided to come. In 2014, my brother-in-law, Michael and his spouse, Mary Ann, joined the party from Illinois as did Tanya’s sister, Heather and her boyfriend, Sean from the Outer Banks.
This year the dam broke: Vinnie’s two sons, Joey and Vinnie, are joining their sister, Megan. Michael and Mary Ann are coming with their son, Joe and their twin daughters, Melanie and Michelle who are bringing their boyfriends. Tanya’s dad is coming, too, along with her sister, Bonnie and her new husband, Daniel.
For those counting at home, that’s 23 — by definition, a Big Dinner.
Saturday our house will be bursting at the seams with people, laughter, food, good times and family — lots and lots of family.
And somewhere I know Papa Joe will be smiling.