As readers from last week know, I spent Thanksgiving in Kansas City with my grandma, sister (her husband), brother (his wife and daughter), and parents. As my brother-in-law drove me away from the train station, my sister turned and announced, “There’s been a change of plans.” Pause.
“We’re going to Golden Corral.” Oh boy.
This was not part of my Thanksgiving vision. There are good reasons that Norman Rockwell never did a painting of a family at a buffet restaurant. But, this decision had nothing to do with me. Grandma, the matriarch, the host and owner of the family’s gathering place, is the only one that matters in this story.
My grandma is a “tough old bird” and sharp as a tack (and any number of other idioms that describe “tough old birds.”) Grandma is also 88 and currently recovering from a knee replacement. She’s not as quick as she’d like to be and she spends a lot more time in her chair with her feet propped up and heating pad on.
Just as tradition dictates, grandma’s vision for our Thanksgiving feast had been growing by the weeks. It had started as a simple ham and had evolved to include nearly every classic Akers’ holiday dish, no salad or relish tray excluded. This would have been fine two years ago, but this is 2012, not 2010. This year has been much more stressful and physically painful for grandma. And here, I think it is important to note that there are two basic kinds of stress related to grandmas: the stress they feel and the stress that everyone else feels about how much stress they may or may not be feeling. This latter stress is the kind that dictates the flow of my family functions.
So, off to Golden Corral we went. As we pulled into the parking lot it was clear that we weren’t the only family who was providing an alternative dining experience for grandma. A long line ran out the door and wrapped around the side of the building. I could see the panic on my sister’s face. “What have I done?! I’ve convinced grandma that this is a good idea!” My brother-in-law ran to check the estimated wait time. 45 minutes.
This is the point when you can either choose to have a bad attitude or gleefully throw yourself into the buffet mayhem. Preferring mayhem to our idling car, I volunteered to wait in the line (which only ended up being 35 minutes!) Waiting in line at a buffet is a responsibility, especially when you are doing so for a party of nine. You need to become quick friends with your line mates so they don’t get mad at you when you suddenly introduce eight more people into the line- making the distance between them and the chocolate fountain just that much longer. It’s also about timing. It was clear that grandma could not and did not want to be on her feet for too long. Timing had to be right in transferring her from the car to the bench outside, then to the bench inside, and finally into the line with us. My sister and I balanced these responsibilities with grace and ease.
In the end, the meal was, well, fine. Most importantly, grandma thought it tasted like “home cooking.” We probably talked as much as a family during the meal as we would have nestled around grandma’s dining room table. And, instead of doing dishes for most of the afternoon, which includes putting grandma’s bowls and silverware in the wrong place, we played card games and helped with little tasks around the house.
Perhaps this wasn’t my vision for Thanksgiving in Kansas City, but grandma never envisioned that she would be unable to whip up a feast for her family. We all have dreams about how we think family time should go, but as long as there’s love, it doesn’t really matter what food is on the table. So for my Thanksgiving reflection, I’m most thankful for three people: my two sisters and the way they show their love for family and for my grandma who makes family gatherings worth having, even when they are at Golden Corral.
Gena Akers can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.