Cheryl Mandala, 76, Phoenix: This will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent alone, and it is by choice. I requested rain checks from several sets of friends and a daughter who lives nearby. The plan is simple: Spend the day alone, reading, stitching, practicing my piano and harp, checking in on friends and family, and watching the Macy’s Parade and football games. It sounds glorious. What I’ll eat, I have no idea. Maybe a steamed artichoke followed by salmon Wellington and stuffed squash. I’ll make a fancy dessert and take most of it to my grandsons. There’s nice wine already cold.
I think fondly of the years when my mother’s family came en masse to our house; the years when I worked for days making dishes that blended my Texas traditions with my husband’s New York/Eastern European favorites. Bread-and-butter pickles for me; noodle pudding, creamed onions, sauerkraut for him. The dining room table was set with china, crystal, flowers, a fire in the wood-burning fireplace. My son would go off to play in the St. Alban’s Turkey Bowl before dinner, often returning with friends in tow. No problem. Just put more chairs at the table. So many memories.
So this day will be unaccompanied, but hardly lonely. We’ll no doubt arrange a Zoom call for my far-flung children. I wonder who will be the first to remember the year that Chester, the world’s worst-behaved dog, got up on the kitchen table and helped himself to a turkey drumstick while the rest of us sat in the dining room having dessert.
Rachel Krug, 27, Dallas: Thanksgiving will be a lonely holiday continuing a lonely year. My boyfriend and I live in the suburbs of Dallas while my family is in Michigan and his lives in northeastern Florida. We moved to Dallas two years ago knowing the airport hub here would make travel direct and inexpensive, and until the pandemic, we traveled to one home base or the other at least six times a year. Our closest and best friends are also spread throughout the United States.
We haven’t seen our loved ones in person since last Christmas. My boyfriend has a chronic illness that makes him vulnerable to covid-19, and our families and closest friends aren’t isolating and quarantining as strictly as we are. We made our decision to be alone throughout the holidays back in August. For Thanksgiving, we are renting a cabin in Central Texas, in a dark-sky area, and we are hoping the views of the stars help put in perspective how small our feelings and loneliness are — and we put our faith in science and new leadership to put this pandemic behind us.
Amber McGinnis, 42, Cambridge, Md.: We typically have a pretty traditional Thanksgiving meal every year: a huge turkey and all the sides, my husband and kids and in-laws crowded around the table together. Then sitting by the fireplace late into the evening talking and playing games. This year, we’ll be at different tables — 20 feet a part — in my sister-in-law’s two-and-a-half car garage. While we are hoping for warmish weather, which happens often these days even in November in Maryland, we’ll enjoy separate meals each family has brought for themselves, with the doors flung wide open. We’ll eat our own desserts outside by the fire pits, socially distanced, and we probably won’t linger for more than an hour together.
More than Thanksgiving, we miss the old-fashioned family dinners we used to enjoy together every Sunday. We haven’t had one since late February, and my kids have not hugged or kissed their grandparents since then either. Sadly, my in-laws are missing the last couple “tween” years with my kids. By the time we come out clear of this, both will be teenagers and kisses and hugs might not be welcomed by prickly adolescents.
James Matthew Nance, 31, Stillwater, Okla.: For the first time in 30 years I will not spend Thanksgiving with my mother’s family. My grandparents are approaching 90; my aunts, uncles and parents are in their 60s. Adding to the risk, I’m a high school teacher in close contact with students every day. We have 11 positive cases in my school and nearly 150 people in quarantine for close contacts. My cousins are highly exposed as well.
It is deeply frustrating to forgo this holiday, my grandmother’s favorite, which I’ve enjoyed since I was too young to remember. It is even more frustrating to know that this wasn’t necessary. I live in a state without a mask mandate, and I’ve seen so many examples of irresponsible behavior, it breaks my heart. I held my fellow Oklahomans in high esteem before this. Now, it’s difficult for me to even think of them as adults.
Neva Fernandez, 55, Austin: My two kids are looking for normalcy. One had her study abroad cut short and is experiencing her senior year in college in quarantine; the other’s job evaporated two months ago. They’ve begged us to host a normal Thanksgiving, including the family friends we’ve spent the holiday with for 20 years. I gave in but vowed to make it safe. I searched for patio heaters and scored some. We’ll eat outside on the deck and make it work. I’m making individual plates: stuffed Cornish game hens, acorn squash, baked potato. I’ll cook eight 8x8 tin pans all at once. Sorry, no leftovers and no seconds, but we’ll be together. One fun twist: I’ve ordered tiny individual pies.
Suzanne L. Gilmour, 67, East Syracuse, N.Y.: Many of our neighbors are not traveling to be with family this year for Thanksgiving so we are hosting a cooperative dinner from our garage “bistro.” Menus were sent out and each participating household in our neighborhood indicated what they would contribute. All food will be delivered to the bistro where we will meet with our masks on and six-foot distancing for a brief toast (it will only be 40ish degrees despite our space heaters) and to compile takeaway plates using disposable gloves. A separate menu was distributed to indicate “leftovers of choice,” which we will deliver along with pie selections to neighbors who don’t feel safe leaving their homes. We are very thankful for our wonderful neighborhood community!
Barbara Taylor, 67, North Bend, Ore.: This will be the first Thanksgiving dinner in 30 years that I will not share with my husband or our son. Our son lives just 15 minutes away from us, but he works at a hospital and he is in regular contact with his wife’s side of the family, who do not follow covid-19 guidelines. My sister and her partner are in a high-risk category. My brother and I, having been in self-quarantine, plan to meet at our sister’s home on Thanksgiving Day. We have all agreed to wear masks, having one gloved server dish up food, and sitting apart while eating. My husband is unwilling to follow such precautions, so he will not be joining us. Personally, I think he is just pouting over his candidate’s recent loss in the presidential election.
Jeanette Millard, 66, Hudson, Mass.: A group of six of us have celebrated Thanksgiving together for almost 40 years. Over the years, our group has grown to about 25 to 30 to include spouses, children, grandchildren and assorted friends. It is a wonderful tradition that we all love. This year we won’t be gathering, and that has brought home to me what I should be thankful for.
Instead, I’ll be working an eight-hour day as a contact tracer in Massachusetts. Covid-19 doesn’t take a vacation, so neither can we. I’ll be reaching out to people who have tested positive and are quarantining all on their own to protect their families. Maybe a call from one of us thousands of contact tracers will make their holiday a tiny bit friendlier.