By Melissa Jones
I was one of five people working the night shift on Thanksgiving at a country club in upstate New York.
The workers with few family attachments were the ones selected to work the least desirable shifts. Not having a large extended family to celebrate with makes me one of those people.
Before my parents’ divorce, my family spent every Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s house in Bellmore on Long Island. My parents, my brother, my sister and I would squeeze into my mother’s Ford Taurus for the 15-minute drive to my aunt and uncle’s McMansion, an enormous house with newly-added dormers clad in pale yellow siding and emerald green shutters.
My family’s routine ran like clockwork. My father would sternly lecture my brother, Dylan, about his tendency to cower before our mentally handicapped cousin, Nicholas, who is much older and larger than my brother. My sister, Kathryn, would be similarly admonished not to show how scared she is of our cousins’ Siberian Husky. My father’s tendency to meet fear with threats is his most noteworthy — and unfortunate — trait.
Thanksgiving dinner in the McMansion consisted of turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, stuffing, my mother’s famous éclair pie, fake smiles and empty conversation. I would hardly eat for fear of looking like a whale compared to my stick-figured cousins. I also learned, over the course of a 15-year tradition, never to trust my cousins, Cindi and Shannon, with secrets or any of the intimacies that, I imagine, cousins in a typical family usually share.
I was taught that my Aunt Candie — who goes by the nickname my father gave her when she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes — always had a hidden agenda with every question and conversation. I was taught that my uncle Nicky was the victim in my aunt and uncle’s impending divorce.
My family would leave promptly after dinner and not return until Christmas.
My last Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle’s house was when I was 15. Multiple divorces and deaths in the following year split my family apart. This holiday I will only spend time with my mother, sister and brother.
I reflect on these memories as I work through my Thanksgiving shift serving meals to entitled rich people who, perhaps, have left their own McMansions to eat at the country club.
The late dinner we serve consists of lemon chicken, mussel-and-shrimp stew, basmati rice, mixed greens and chocolate mousse for dessert. The food makes me forget that we are celebrating a holiday.
As I walk around the inn for quality checks, I wish the passing guests “Happy Thanksgiving.” I am lucky if the occasional guest nods his head in return. As I monitor the late Thanksgiving buffet, a teenage girl standing over the food turns to me and asks, “This is it?”
Eventually, I sit down with the utility staff and sous chef to eat our dinner, which consists of leftovers from the buffet table. Among the servers at the country club, I usually feel like the outsider, because I’m from Long Island and my coworkers, young people my age, have known each other for years. But tonight they welcome me. So, even though I am feeling lonely, I am also grateful to be with them this holiday.