“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”

That refrain speaks to one of my life’s most cherished journeys. On Thanksgiving morning, we’d pile into the Plymouth Valiant station wagon, laden with the family’s contributions to the feast, enough clothes packed for a few nights stay and, of course, my parent’s cocktail fixings. Our destination was New Canaan, Connecticut, my grandparent’s house, our starting point Glenwood, Maryland.

The drive was a little under four hours, if traffic was willing, but to me, it took forever. Seared into memory is the stench of New Jersey, my father’s raging over slowpokes in the passing lane, and the near-constant scuffle between my brothers seated on either side of me in the backseat. My center placement was designed to keep them separated but I always leaned forward, elbows over the front bench seat, listening to my parents’ desultory conversation, watching the road signs whip by.

We were awarded a snack of Ho-Hos when we zipped by the Ho-Ho-kus exit, and crossing the Tappan Zee brought forth a host of silly, made-up poems. By the time we hit the Merritt Parkway, my butterflies were in full flutter. Almost there! At 72 Sunrise Avenue, a quiet working class horseshoe street where my grandfather built his modest house in the 1930s, Old Glory flapped outside. Grandpa always hung the flag for special visitors. He waited, grinning on the front porch.

Inside, the aunts, uncles and cousins who lived closer were already there, inevitably crowded in the steaming kitchen where the turkey roasted and innumerable sides were near readiness. I buried my face in Grandma’s apron, the love and contentment in that embrace nearly overwhelming.

Many years have gone by, much like the road signs along the Garden State Parkway; so many, so quickly. Now I am a grandmother and my children have their own families, friends and lives far from Telluride. I get it. It is the way of things. I, too, left family behind to find a home to call my own.

For years, the Dearly Beloved and I filled the house with all manner of “orphans” each Thanksgiving, friends whose families were elsewhere and who could either not afford to leave or get off work to travel. My kids grew up seeing that family easily stretched beyond one’s blood relatives. Those feasts were merry gatherings and brought together a disparate range of chums, work colleagues and friends of friends. All were welcome.

COVID rudely cleared the table in 2020 and the table leaves remained stashed. Still, I roasted the biggest bird that Indian Ridge Farm offered. That crazy year, I loaded up to-go plates for neighbors. In 2021, we had an early Thanksgiving in Portland where No. 1 Son and his family live, and then celebrated the actual day just the two of us, the pandemic still snarling at the doorstep.

After being away for six weeks on family matters and working remotely, I find myself introspective and not a little burned out this year. I could hardly muster the thought of prepping a meal weighted with such stature and tradition, much less hosting a couple dozen hungry souls at 459. But in the week since I’ve been back, the kitchen has re-seduced me. The inwardness of the season is manifesting itself with irresistible aromas and delicious experiments. This week has been spent dry-brining the bird and cooking anything that can be made ahead. Even if I could pull forth the energy for a crowd, many of our usual suspects are hither and yon. Looks like it’s just you and me, babe.

Thanksgiving, this intensely familial time of year, finds me longing for my kiddos and their beloveds. Much as I find it still somewhat unbelievable that I am a grandmother, the role suits me. I’ve perfected the staging of the feast and I want nothing more for them to burst through the door where they will be — as I was all those years ago — surrounded by warmth and savory aromas and an abundance of love.

But this year, the Portland fam is up to their ears in work with no time off, and the Bozeman contingent are choosing to hunker down as grandbaby number 2 nears his debut in January. I hope they know how much I wish they could surprise us with their countenances around the table. It’s magical thinking to the extreme, but I’m so ready to fill their kids’ memories with a journey much like the one of my childhood — the one that goes over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.

Maybe next year.