Three years ago, I had 17 people at my table on Thanksgiving Day. The guest list included local friends and family from afar, all of varying ages. I spent a whole month preparing. I rented chairs, bought an extension table, bleached my tablecloth, and planned to decorate each table setting with coordinating napkins and ornamental place card holders. I leafed through magazines and considered dozens of recipes.
My husband reminded me that I was hosting a single meal and not a wedding. He watched as I ran in and out the door that month, my hands full of shopping bags and coupons; tins full of peppermint bark; sacks full of flour and sugar. I think he worried for my mental health when I stayed up one night painting names on orange glass ornaments that I planned to set on top of the water glasses.
I was driven to have the sort of Thanksgiving Day that even a Pilgrim would be proud of. I wanted my friends and family to walk into the dining room with their mouths agape and declare my table to be a thing of beauty. I wanted them to enjoy the day because I loved them.
You're probably thinking I am going to tell you a story of disaster: that the turkey was dry, or the dog ate the shrimp, or the stove started on fire. We all love those stories where someone is striving for perfection, and invariably they learn that there is no such thing when something disastrous happens. But I have no such story for you; it was a perfect day.
And now, just three years later, I want to let you know that if I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. It was worth all the work and worry and the running and the spending and the hours of planning for a single meal.
And here is why: Three years have passed since that wonderful day and two of my guests are no longer here on this Earth to enjoy another Thanksgiving meal.
My cousin passed away recently at just 33 years old, and this year, she will not come through the door with her bubbly stride, holding a plate of stuffed shrimp and a bottle of chilled white wine. I will miss her at the table.
And a cherished family friend has also passed-a woman of great creativity and flare.
As I was serving the turkey that day, I had the sort of rosy glow that reinforced my belief that life is ultimately fair, and that the people I love will always be here and that there will always be another Thanksgiving.
This year, look around your table and be thankful. Be thankful for each and every person who has made their way to your home with their vegetable plates and their pumpkin pies in hand.
Hug them tight as they scurry in from the cold.
We have a Thanksgiving tradition at my house: Everyone writes down what they are thankful for on a piece of paper, and it's read out loud during the meal. On that day, my cousin wrote how thankful she was for all of the people at the table, and for all the relationships she had cultivated and rekindled with her family.
I will bring her attitude of gratefulness to our table this year. And I vow to give the day all the joy and the passion it deserves.
Margot Russell is a freelance writer, who has also worked as a reporter and a news broadcaster. She is currently an international tour director, and owner of Blue World Journeys - a tour company specializing in small group tours to Peru and Machu Picchu.
Margot grew up in Amherst, but spent her summers by Chautauqua Lake. Before moving to Lakewood in 2012, she lived on Cape Cod, Mass. for more than 20 years, where she was a staff writer for Inside Cape Cod Magazine and a news broadcaster for WQRC radio and raised three daughters. She is happy to finally be back by Chautauqua Lake.