A personal essay by Ellie Rockoff
My legs swing underneath the Thanksgiving table, as I am much too young for my feet to reach the floor. I fidget with my braids as I eagerly watch my mother hustle around the kitchen, apron on, tired hands in oven mitts, juggling pans from the oven to the island, to the stove, and back into the oven. The countertop is covered with appetizers, drinks, and the hands of our guests who are gathered in conversation. In the background are the cheerful voices of the Today Show hosts as they narrate Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The familiar marching bands, mega balloons, and singing floats prance across the screen, ringing in the holiday season. Upstairs, my father and brother hurry to get all dressed up, only to get sweaty and fall in the grass while playing football in the backyard.
Thanksgiving in the Rockoff house is riddled with traditions that have been in our family since I was the little girl who adorned the dining table with homemade place cards. The holiday always went like clockwork, and I never once questioned what we did or the meaning our traditions carried. I blindly consumed the excessive amounts of turkey legs, mashed potatoes, corn soufflé, and pumpkin mousse that my mother effortlessly produced. Although I wish I could have tasted the food that I made, the Thanksgiving kitchen was my mom’s domain; every year our family would offer our help but she would swiftly decline, and we respected that this was her space to create as she pleased.
Of course, I was grateful for the effort she put into cooking and cleaning up, as that is what we are supposed to feel on Thanksgiving. But I never thought past the superficial gratitude that the commercialized image of Thanksgiving has instilled in us. It was not until Covid hit and I began cooking did I realize the power that food has to draw people together. During the months of quarantine, I cured the monotony of my days by experimenting with recipes and making dinner for my family, as those were the only people I could be near. I saw the grateful and curious look in their eyes as I sat down with our plates at the dinner table and nervously watched them consume the first bite. Whether they enjoyed it or not, there were always laughs to be had and stories to be exchanged. On these nights the rest of the world was shut out around us, so we had nowhere to go but our kitchen and no one to see but each other.
Covid instilled in me a new sense of gratitude, as I witnessed the way food united my family in a time of isolation. Often we overlook the simple and beautiful act of preparing food for loved ones, and how it draws us into the present moment. As someone with many relatives who live far away, I will treasure this year’s holiday more than before. Covid may have distanced us from our loved ones, but it taught us the fickleness of life and the need to appreciate the moments we share. This year, I will no longer sit thoughtless and wide-eyed, swinging my legs under the table; I will watch as we pass ornate ceramic plates across the green-cloaked Thanksgiving table, exchanging stories from the year and making up for our lost time. The turkey legs, mashed potatoes, corn soufflé, and pumpkin mousse that I used to blindly consume will now be a vessel of gratitude and camaraderie, values my younger self had yet to appreciate.