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Jill Wellington, Pixabay

We’d moved the year before, out of state and out of culture. Thanksgiving was shaping up as friends going out of town to be with relatives, so we’d planned a quiet weekend at our homestead.

This was not a problem; we’re not big on commercial holidays, preferring to recognize the Earth-centered seasonal markers usually found beneath the layers of marketing distortions.  I remember one year when a work colleague bemoaned the approach of this Big Family Day signaling the start of a season of "oughts" and obligations. She wanted to go skiing but "needed" to put in an appearance with her family who often squabbled of late over her sister's antics.  She was distraught, torn between having a memorable time with friends, dutifully filling a chair and listening to bickering, and the pictures implanted in her head of the Perfect Hollywood-Hallmark Happy Family.

"Aren't holidays supposed to be fun?" she remarked. "Well, if they aren't, why do you continue to go?" I asked her. It's important to be with family when we want to be and when they need us, but it's not important to follow a commercially imposed script.

On Monday, my husband came home from work with a flier in his hand. “Ginger’s” cafe where he ate lunch was a popular place, usually crowded at lunch time. We’d also been there several times for breakfast on the weekends and it was crowded then, too. The flier announced that all Ginger’s customers not otherwise engaged were invited to a Thanksgiving potluck to be held in a community room at the shopping center where her cafe was located, and open to those with no particular plans for the day.

Ginger and her husband would provide coffee, tea, soft drinks and the turkeys. I think she divided guests’ contributions alphabetically (A through H, appetizers or salad, I through P, side dishes, and the dessert group), but she made it clear you could bring whatever you wanted if the alphabetical guidelines didn’t work for you. We decided she had a great idea. While we knew only one of her other customers, we were acquainted with Ginger and her husband, and we were up for something different.

Thanksgiving Thursday arrived brisk and sunny, and when we showed up at the appointed hour there were quite a  few people there already. We checked in with Ginger, added our contributions to the quickly filling tables and ourselves to the growing line as yet more people came in the door. And we thought we were probably the only ones kicking back solo over the weekend! 

When our plates were full we turned to face the next step - looking for a place to sit and prospective conversation partners - when another couple approached us asking if we’d like to find a table with them. We would.  We did.  The food was good and the conversation turned out to be especially fun. We hit it off immediately with our new acquaintances who are still friends some sixteen years later, having passed various holidays at each other’s homes. We would probably have met them eventually through some other community activity, since we shared several interests, but this simple alternative to the Perfect Happy Family Day was an ideal introduction.

Ginger and her husband retired and closed their cafe, but I often wonder how many other friendships began at that potluck, all because one woman had a good idea about doing things a little differently.


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