I have so many beautiful memories of this day.
For my “first Thanksgiving,” when I was living in France, I cooked the traditional meal from scratch – including the turkey – using only a two-burner electric hotplate and a convection oven. The turkey itself was an adventure, because November is not “turkey season” for the French; a helpful open-market worker directed me to the one butcher in town likely to have one, which he did – a special order for someone for the next day, but he sold it to me anyway, saying a day was plenty of time for him to get another one. We had four countries represented at our table that night – I think it was nine people crammed into the tiny apartment kitchen – and, despite having spent many happy Thanksgivings with my family growing up, it was the first year I really got what the holiday is all about.
Four years later, Doug and I were in Seattle and planning to spend a quiet Thanksgiving together in our apartment; I remember we had decided to just get the stuffed turkey breast we carry year-round at work, rather than dealing with a whole turkey and its trimmings. When one of our coworkers, a 30-something mom of three beautiful little girls, heard of our plan, she forbade us to go through with it, insisting that we come spend the holiday with her family instead. We began the morning early with an impromptu coffee tasting in her kitchen, helped her cook (Doug made all the sides, mostly from recipes he’d created), and stayed well into the night, drinking good wine and playing board games.
This year, as last, Doug and I are making the rounds of our families’ dinners (he has two families; I have one; all are local), which is a nice feeling in itself: knowing we have so many places to go, so many people who love us, and getting to spend all that in-between-houses time in the car, holding hands and singing along with the radio.
Strange as it may sound, Thanksgiving is a beautiful thing at work, too. It’s our biggest event of the year – even bigger than Christmas, as we are grocery, not retail. We sell upwards of a thousand turkeys each year, wear turkey hats, fight for space in our backroom as well as out on the floor. And that’s what I’d like to write about today: the lessons I’ve learned at work over the past week.
Lesson One: We are capable of a range of emotions, sometimes all at once, and have the right to feel them and honor them.
My store manager, an initially intimidating but ultimately wonderful, intelligent, compassionate woman, gets really into this holiday. She’s the one who provides the turkey hats (and a few costumes) for us; she had a full Thanksgiving dinner tasting for us at the beginning of the season; she walks through the store making gobbling noises and chatting up the customers about their plans for their feasts. Sure, it’s her biggest chance to turn a profit, but I also believe that she genuinely loves the holiday, its spirit, and what it represents.
Last Thursday, we got the word from the warehouse that we were probably not going to have enough turkeys to last us through the holiday – this after they’d told us at the beginning of the season that we would, for the first year ever, have “plenty”. My manager was heartbroken. I asked her what had happened: how do you go from saying “we’ll have plenty” to saying, “we’ll be out by the Sunday before”?
She didn’t have the answer to my question. But she did, in a hoarse voice, give me some insight into how she was feeling about the situation. “You know, I put so much work into this holiday. I planned for months. I tried to get you guys all excited about it. I’ve been telling the customers we weren’t going to run out of turkeys this year. It’s not even about making money and meeting our goal [for turkeys sold]. I just put so much into it, planning and getting everyone excited…”
She was crestfallen. I could hear the disappointment in what was left of her voice. And when I told a (male) coworker, later, how sad it had been to see such a strong, formidable woman so upset, he tried to brush it off: “It’s just turkeys,” he said.
But it wasn’t just turkeys. She was excited about something, and had been let down. She reminded me, in that moment, of myself: trying to pick herself up in the face of this letdown, trying to put on her best face and go forward, but still obviously, profoundly, disappointed in how things had turned out.
Lesson Two: Sometimes it’s necessary to go against what your heart wants, for the greater good of your environment.
A few days later, we found a turkey that had a hole in its packaging, and was, therefore, unsellable. When I took it to the back to write it off, I asked my store manager whether I should put it somewhere to donate (as we do with most of our spoils).
“Just throw it away,” she said. “We don’t have the space to store it until the donations people come.”
“Oh. That’s sad,” I said.
“I know. My heart says yes, but my storage space says just throw it away.”
And, I thought, me too. My heart says “baby,” but my life says, “not yet.” And even though it’s sad, it’s okay to make that call.
Lesson Three: Love is occasionally random, and always welcome.
Finally, last night at work, the supervisor at the desk told me I had a phone call. I never get calls on the work phone, but thought maybe it was my mom, who’d been arguing with me via text about her turkey “bleeding in her fridge.” I picked up line two.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hi Marie, it’s Bibby [the coworker of love story fame]. I wanted to call you because I realized I didn’t get to say happy Thanksgiving to you before you left yesterday.”
“Oh… That’s sweet. Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving to you too.”
“And I wanted to tell you I’m thankful for you and Doug, and I can’t wait to see your faces again. And tell him everything will be okay, with his mom and stuff. Drive safe tomorrow!”
I went back to work, and told a couple other coworkers (who’d also half-expected my mother and her turkey woes) what had happened. “She’s drinking already,” they concluded.
But I was left smiling. What a strange and sweet moment in an otherwise overwhelming workday.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.