To Grandmother’s House We Go

Tuesday and Wednesday: Before Thanksgiving

The two days before Thanksgiving were cold and wet and above all busy. I had several work projects to finish. Noah turned in the rough draft of his research paper on Tuesday and had a rehearsal for a joint middle school-high school concert after school and the concert itself that evening.  He didn’t get home until 8:15 and was up until 10:30 doing his World Studies homework. We let him stay up that late (and actually went to bed before he did) because the next day was a half-day and the day before Thanksgiving so we didn’t expect much instruction to take place.

Beth came home early that day and took Noah on a series of errands, which included getting new boots for him while I stayed home with June, packed for our Thanksgiving trip and had her try on snow pants, hats, mittens, and boots.  It was cold in Takoma Park and colder in Wheeling, where there was already some snow on the ground.  June couldn’t even get into her snow pants from last winter so I called up Megan’s mom Kerry, who is always giving us hand-me-downs from her two girls and I asked if she had any outgrown snow pants and sure enough she did.  I needed to go to the library to pick up my next book club book (Alice Munro’s Selected Short Stories) and Megan’s house is on the way so an outing was born.  The girls were happy to see each other, if only for a few minutes (Megan hugged June as if she were going on a long sea journey rather than away for a long weekend.)  The rain and sleet had changed over to snow flurries, which made the walk to the library seem festive.  June went so far as to say it was “a winter wonderland,” even though the snow was not sticking, which I think of as a requirement for that label.

At the library we saw June’s friend Riana and her mom. Riana was sitting in front of an impressively tall pile of books with her nose in one of them. Her mom, Shannon, explained these were necessary supplies for a long, cold weekend. As June and I waited outside the library for Beth to come fetch us, June engrossed in a book of poems she’d selected, Riana and Shannon left the library; Riana was reading while walking.  I pointed to both girls, “They can’t stop,” I said.

“Do you think we’re raising readers?” Shannon asked and she bid us a happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, Part I: Through the White and Drifted Snow

We left around nine a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. We usually drive on the holiday itself to avoid traffic.  There was very little traffic and the roads were dry, and we made only two short stops, so we arrived in Wheeling a little after two.

The drive was lovely. About ten thirty I started seeing big icicles on the rock face of the road cuts and little ones fringing the road signs like beards.  Fifteen minutes later I noticed the trees in the distance were an oddly fuzzy gray, as if they’d been frosted, but I didn’t think it was snow. It wasn’t white enough. As we got closer I saw it was ice. There had been an ice storm and all the trees were glazed and sparkling in the sun. The photo only pays it partial justice. There was an occasional flurry, enough to be scenic but not enough to hinder driving.  When we stopped for gas, snacks, or a restroom there was just enough snow on the ground for June to stomp. For a brief part of the drive, the snow on the side of the road was deep enough to qualify as “white and drifted snow,” I noted to Beth, but that was only at the highest elevation.

The only mishap of the drive was at the very beginning. As I tried to insert the first CD of the carefully chosen selection of audio books Beth got at the library for the trip, it wouldn’t go in; there was another CD stuck in there.  We listened to Noah’s summer band camp concert on someone’s device (iPod, iPad, phone, who knows, we have a lot of gadgets) and then June suggested we try to play the CD stuck in the drive.  We had no idea what it was but Beth pressed play and Magic Tree House #20, Dingoes at Dinnertime started. These are not my favorite children’s books, but it was forty-five minutes of entertainment for June on a long trip, so I didn’t mind.

Thanksgiving, Part II: Hooray for the Fun! Is the Pudding Done? Hooray for the Pumpkin Pie!

We went straight to Beth’s mom’s house to socialize for a while before going to the hotel to change clothes for dinner, which was at Beth’s aunt Susan’s house. She had a big crowd, twenty-one people, including her three sisters and a small fraction of their children, grandchildren, and one great grandchild. There was a group of four girls aged three to seven, including June and another seven year old and they were immediately fast friends. They ate early at the kids’ table and then watched an animated film about a cow who wanted to be a reindeer.

Noah was the only other kid there and because of the big age gap between him and the other kids or maybe because he’s taller than me now (a fact which did not go unnoticed), Susan said she would seat him at the adult table.

While half the party was eating appetizers and chatting in the living room and the other half was in the kitchen, June played “Happy Birthday” on the violin for the three people who had November birthdays.  And she didn’t make them share. She played it three separate times, each time facing the birthday boy or girl.

Here’s a video Susan took:

Right before dinner, Beth’s aunt Jenny asked for everyone’s attention and delivered a heartfelt speech about how she was grateful for her sisters’ support after her recent heart surgery.

And then we ate.  Dinner was great. Susan’s granddaughters Lily and Tessa had made place cards decorated with pumpkins, acorns and autumnal leaves.  Almost everyone had brought food. The vegetarians among us feasted on mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy (June’s favorite), sweet potatoes, rice, Jenny’s corn pudding, Carole’s nut loaf, green bean casserole, Brussels sprouts, deviled eggs, rolls, and cranberry sauce (Noah’s favorite). Then there was pie. There were three pumpkin pies (including one YaYa made and a pumpkin chiffon Carole made), two pecan pies (one of which YaYa contributed), and a coconut custard pie. It reminded me of the picnic in Harold and the Purple Crayon: “There was nothing but pie. But there were all nine kinds of pie Harold liked best.”

After the meal, June played “Over the River and Through the Woods,” twice because Beth’s cousin Laura dropped by to socialize after her own dinner and had missed it.  June had been practicing this piece for weeks for just this occasion.  (Her violin teacher is a flexible, easy-going young woman who lets June depart from the standard Suzuki songbook when June suggests another song she’d like to learn instead.)

Shortly before seven, most of the families with kids started getting ready to go. Lily and Tessa handed out gingerbread people to everyone and Thanksgiving was over, at least for us. I suspect those with bedtimes after eight stayed a bit longer.

Friday to Sunday: After Thanksgiving

We passed a pleasant weekend in Wheeling. We visited some more with Beth’s aunts, ate leftovers, and went out for crepes and for Chinese. Beth visited with a friend from high school; I read most of an issue of Brain, Child and a good chunk of an Agatha Christie novel, while Noah and I read seven chapters of Fablehaven #4, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary. June spent hours in the hotel pool, one morning with me and the next with Beth and she went skating with Beth. We saw a holiday laser light show and drove through the light display at Oglebay Park. Noah spent two mornings doing homework but he didn’t have to spend the whole weekend holed up in the hotel room, as I’d feared he might. I was glad he was able to come on our outings so he could have a break and spend time with family, because that’s the real reason we give thanks.