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A Blended Family Holiday

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that I would just as soon skip. Not that our family Thanksgivings have been terrible. We all pretty much get along and we usually split up the cooking so no one person has to shoulder all the burden. But there are a lot of us, and it always feels to me like Thanksgiving is just a noisy, chaotic dress rehearsal for an even noisier and more chaotic Christmas. If I had my druthers, I'd be thankful to trade overeating turkey, dressing, and pies for sipping wine and nibbling on olives, cheese, and a crusty bread. But that's not how my family does things, so I usually comply.

I did manage to change my Thanksgiving routine up a bit one year when my kids were younger when I got a place at Panama City Beach. The rates were low, the Spring Breakers were absent, and even the snowbirds seemed to be hibernating so for three days we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves and, while it was not exactly the dream beach vacation for my then-preteen daughters, we all enjoyed it immensely. Plus, it was warm enough for us all to sunbathe and even get in the water, which seemed decadent that time of year. As fabulous as it was, though, we made sure we came home in time for the family Thanksgiving gathering.

For many years after that beach trip, I longed to break with my family tradition and try something new, but it just never happened--until 10 years ago.

I have this gay friend who is like a big brother to me. He and his partner live in Atlanta (two hours from me) and they are serious foodies who have invited me to travel with them on occasion and often take me along to fabulous late-night dinners at their favorite Atlanta restaurants. In 2007, the two of them decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner at their place and I was invited. My by-then grown children had other in-laws' homes to go to and the Atlanta soirée was not starting until dark-30, so I managed to do Thanksgiving with my parents and siblings early, then jump in the car for Atlanta.

The evening was amazing--great food (yes, turkey, but catered from one of Atlanta's hippest friends love to eat but they are not so interested in cooking). But the very best thing about the evening was the other guests.

Have I mentioned that my friends are a biracial couple? One of them is from a family of working-class Tennessee white folks and the other from a family of upper-class Birmingham black folks. In addition to their families--not all of whom have accepted the possibility that our hosts that night might be more than roommates--the party was attended by all of their favorite Atlanta waiters and busboys (and girls) and a garrulous and charming friend of theirs from Great Britain. We ate and drank until the wee hours of the morning. Thankfully I did not have to drive home.

It was not the quiet Thanksgiving I had imagined with just cheese, olives, and crusty bread. But there was wine, which was as exceptional as it was abundant (they opened the really good bottles after the Tennessee relatives had gone off to their hotels). I thought it was the best Thanksgiving ever and it was so good that I have not missed it since.

Through the years, each of those Atlanta Thanksgiving dinners has had a fabulous array of food, wine, and people (from my friends' housekeeper to Congressman John Lewis, who made a cameo appearance one year giving us all handshakes and Congressional calendars). And there was also some occasional family or friend drama, but it always seemed mild, and it was not MY drama.

Apparently, though, the party is over. My friend told me the other night that he and his partner have decided to go out of town for Thanksgiving this year. The party had just become too noisy and chaotic and they want to save their energy for Christmas. The news saddened me at first, then I began to wonder--how would they feel about us all renting a place at Panama City Beach?

Baby It's Cold Outside!