In college, my group of friends was known as “the family”. The name was affectionately coined by my next-door-neighbor during my freshman year, who, living just a few cinder-blocks away from me and my delightfully loud roommate(s), knew that this “family” operated much like any other family you may be familiar with. We had unwavering routines, invented new ways of greeting each other, took an inordinately large amount of photographs at our gatherings, and were (usually) unafraid to confront, confess, or confide, trusting in something close to unconditional love to see us through. We made sacrifices of time, money, and sleep to support each other. We knew each other’s quirks, histories, and shames and generally tried to love each other well in spite of them.
By senior year, we had vacationed together (learning that which can only be discovered in a 12 hour car ride with family), celebrated birthdays, engagements, awards, and achievements, and thoroughly lived into the day-to-day realities of living side-by-side for nearly four years. And yet our journey was lacking in one key element that makes a family – the celebration of holidays. In the beautiful non-reality of college, every major holiday coincided wonderfully with a “break”, providing ample time to travel home for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas; but this also meant that these were not celebrated by my other “family”.
So I think it was probably my idea.
A full Thanksgiving dinner (to be shared by 14 hungry college students) cooked by a bunch of un-practiced 20somethings, with only 2 kitchens between them. What could go wrong?
It was determined that we would need two turkeys. So there went the ovens. The boys (the name primarily bestowed upon the 4-person apartment occupied by 4 of my favorite gentlemen) were tasked with cooking one turkey, while I boldly volunteered to cook the other. Mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, gravy, cinnamon apple sauce, cornbread, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce were all tasked to other volunteers, based on their cooking skills and proximity to aforementioned kitchens.
As the day approached, the reality of what I had proposed began to hit me. Think back to Thanksgiving at your own house. What do you picture? Your mother in the kitchen cooking all day while the rest of the family wanders around the house, semi-oblivious to the fact that the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen required someone’s hard work? Yes. Me too. Only now I would be the one standing in the kitchen all day trying to coerce delicious smells to waft into my neighbors’ apartment.
In spite of looming fears, I did what I always do when I’m overwhelmed. I planned.
I made lists. I set time-tables. I checked in with all the food-bringers to ensure that everyone else was as on-the-ball as I was (it was senior year – my friends loved me enough to overlook this quirk of mine and reassuringly lied to me and told me they were fully prepared). I made more lists.
The day of our first family holiday arrived. I had remembered to thaw out the bird, and took that as a sign that things were absolutely going to go fine.
Flaw in Plan #1. I am in college. I have class most of the day. My oven lacks a timer. Visions of standing in the kitchen in a cute apron from Anthropologie while “getting in the holiday spirit” quickly leave me.
Flaw in Plan #2. I do not own a roasting pan. I do, however, own a 9×13 Pyrex that is smaller than the bird I volunteered to cook.
Undeterred, (and several phone calls to my mother later) I managed to cram the bird into the Pyrex and make it up the hill to class by 10am, with my roommates assuring me that they would keep an eye on the oven to make sure that the turkey didn’t catch fire/fall out of the Pyrex/become bone-dry.
To be honest, the rest of the day is a blur. Like most family get-togethers, the specifics melt away and form a hazy blend of emotions and snapshots.
I remember nearly collapsing with laughter on the floor of the boys’ kitchen, but I have no idea why – I think it had something to do with the meticulous way that Dave insisted on mashing the potatoes. I remember “relocating” two large tables and several chairs from the basement of our apartment building so as to fit all of our friends at one huge table. I remember that Steve carved the turkey and that Rachel tried to convince everyone that cranberries from a processed log were better than any other kind. And I remember feeling grateful. Grateful in part because that’s what the day is about – a time to pause in the chaos of life and actually count your blessings – but also grateful for the people that I was surrounded by and the four years of shared history we had built together.
But more than that, grateful, knowing that this would be just the beginning. C.S. Lewis wrote, at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” This is what that moment felt like – knowing that even the joy of that day and the friendship of those four years was merely the cover and title page of the Story that goes on forever.