Down in my basement, I'm counting turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers--salt, pepper, pepper, salt--little ceramic turkey soldiers awaiting their call to holiday duty. I used to know how many of these things I had, but I seem to have blocked the number out. Same with the turkey tablecloths and turkey napkins. A person just doesn't need this much turkey-related stuff, even if it was on sale. A person really does not need even one set of turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers, let alone 15, 16 sets of turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers. What was my problem? Why did I get so many? This is ridiculous. This is like looking at the wrappers from all the junk food you binged on.

I blow the dust off one box containing a mere three pairs of ceramic gobblers. This is all I'm bringing upstairs. The rest stay down here in retirement, or maybe I'll donate them to a church.

I am someone new now. This Thanksgiving I am scaling back. I am not inviting every person I ever knew over for Thanksgiving dinner, as I have for about the past five. Instead of tables all over the house--rented tables and rented chairs turning my house into a restaurant, and let's not forget the year the well went dry and we had to also rent a big water tank that sat out in the front yard--no! This year I am setting a table for six. Imagine. An entire Thanksgiving event occurring at . . . one table.

I am feeling good about this. I am thinking I might be a better person now, the fine wine version of a soda pop self. I might be a person who appreciates the subtleties of family, a person who no longer needs to gorge on love. But I don't think it's ever good to assign value to who you used to be versus who you are now. I think it's better to just go ahead and understand and forgive.

This is my understanding: Of course I gorged on love. Because before that I was starving. I went a long time living alone. I can remember one Thanksgiving when I served myself a chicken leg baked in the toaster oven. I can remember the Thanksgiving after that when I decided it was too pathetic to eat a chicken leg baked in the toaster oven and so I just said forget it, what does it matter what you eat, anyway, and I ate popcorn and watched TV and then I took my dog for a walk and then the dog ran away. I can remember going to other people's houses for Thanksgiving and having fun except when it hurt too bad, seeing the wife and the mother doing all the things I was not allowed to do by virtue of the fact that I was not a wife and not a mother. It hurt too bad to even think like that, so mostly I didn't. And, anyway, I had a family back home in Philadelphia, a mom and a dad and sisters and a brother, a huge pile of love I could run to, so who was I to complain?

I didn't. I dug my heels in, as so many people dig their heels in when they see the holidays approaching. I dug my heels in and curled my toes and more or less held my breath until the cool slap of January came, the best excuse God ever came up with to crawl under the covers and attend to buried tears.

So, naturally. As the scenery changed and the love of my life plopped down before me, I mean, naturally. I was ready for some holiday happiness. I gorged on holiday happiness. I never knew there existed things like turkey salt and pepper shakers, and thus began my binge. I invited everyone. And pretty soon it was rented tables and chairs, the whole house aglow with my fire. A dragon, I was a fire-breathing dragon of holiday cheer.

I am someone new now. I am a hawk protecting her nest. This year our Thanksgiving table will be just: me, him, his two grown kids and our two little ones. It's been a little tricky editing out the others: "We're not doing that this year." I had trouble saying that. I don't like thinking of myself as someone who excludes. I don't know if I make a good hawk, extending my wings around this nest, shouting, "No more love allowed!"

I might not be a better person now. I might just be an old crank, too tired to cook for a large group. I ask the husband what he thinks. He is filling salt shakers while I am working on pepper. He says something about a message on the machine from Nancy, and another one from Wendy, and he's glad to hear Leslie is planning to stop by, too. On Friday, that is, the day after Thanksgiving. Because like a lot of people, we're going to have a ton of leftovers. "More people are available the day after Thanksgiving than the day of," the husband says, pointing out that we'll probably have a bigger crowd over here than ever.

So, it will be Friday instead of Thursday, and fewer salt and pepper shakers. I might be a better person now, or I might be an old crank, but like most people I am probably just a version of who I was last year, which is just a version of the year before.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is laskasmail@aol.com.