To Grandmother’s House We (May or May Not) Go

(Patti O’Brien, Photographer)
Dr. A. O’Brien and granddaughter Julia O’Brien model unique and creative ways to minimize airborne particles of COVID-19 at family gatherings.

    Common Sense. Creativity. Courage. Perhaps we should approach the upcoming holidays with these words in our back pocket, to guide us in our planning.
    The traditional Thanksgiving holiday is chock-full of all the COVID-19 “No-No’s:”
    * Time spent traveling in crowded airports and airplanes;
    * Family members of all ages and vulnerabilities; some who diligently quarantine, and some who do not;
    * Indoor gatherings in crowded living quarters with recirculated air;
    * Laughter and loud, projectile speaking so that Aunt Sukey can hear you ;
    * Hugging, kissing and cheek-pinching (the innocent, Grandma variety, let’s hope);
    * Shouting matches, if you are a “football rivalry” type family;
    * Shouting matches, if you are a “political rivalry” type family;
    * Shared food everybody touches, like dips and cheese trays;
    *Accidental drainage of someone else’s wine glass (wine charms assume one can remember what charm was originally assigned — am I the cable car, the fedora, or maybe I was the ladybug?);
    *Furry sweaters (Yes, you read that correctly. Furry sweaters shed and get stuck in one’s lip balm, forcing a constant touching of the face).
    Some of us will throw caution to the wind, deciding that it is a crucial priority to reunite with family. Others will opt for pressing the pause button and look forward to some delayed gratification post-vaccine. Some might be relieved to use the pandemic as a convenient excuse to hibernate. Others might divide a large family, meeting in smaller sub-groups instead. There is no right or wrong way in the year we all will long remember 2020.
    Creative Orindans offered some clever takes. Kiley Fillinger, 25, account manager at Bloomberg suggested a family Zoom conference call, where everyone piles their plate in their respective homes and plops down in front of their laptop, to munch and converse as if all were gathered at the table. If you can ignore the tendency to critique yourself chewing and muffling a burp or two, this tradition might be a keeper, as nobody is stuck with the mountain of fine china to hand-wash later, after the cold gravy has adhered to the plates like Super Glue. In all seriousness, the Fillingers have a relative currently undergoing tedious medical treatment with a compromised immune system, so this will undoubtedly be a prudent yet festive choice. But if it were me, I would remind the group I would seek immediate revenge on anyone posting screenshots with dark-meat turkey grease on my face, or picking spinach casserole out 
of my teeth.
    Catherine Pines quipped, “Hmmm. Does scheduling two kids for oral surgery that week count as news?” Since some family resides in Pennsylvania and some in Florida, the Pines opted not to travel or expose their elderly relatives. With her kids’ diminished chewing capabilities, Pines wisely saved herself a lot of extra work in the kitchen.
    Wendy Bond predicts this will be the first year she and her husband will not spend Thanksgiving with their now-collegiate daughters. “The girls plan to stay at school over Thanksgiving break and then come home for winter break in December.” Colleges favor this plan, as it minimizes spread, so most likely the girls will have plenty of other students nearby in the same situation. If anything, this scenario could provide extensive entertainment, as parents walk their fledgling chefs through the process of roasting the turkey and whipping the mashers.
    Linda Watts Bakshi also worried about the young adults away at college: “We typically celebrate ‘Friendsgiving’ with five or six families who all have college students. We’re not quite sure if this is the wisest move this year. Maybe we will have them all take COVID-19 tests.” Some universities will close their dorms in December, forcing many students to return at Thanksgiving and remain home until January.
    Orindans who were polled agreed that taking guests’ temperatures at the door would be awkward as well as potentially a waste of time, as many are asymptomatic.
    When asked how her family might spend the upcoming holiday, beloved educator Terry Schrittwieser predicted, “Whatever we do will be low-key and last-minute.” The Schrittwiesers have two students away at college and a 90-year-old father-in-law living in their home, so she does not envision any large-scale gatherings in the foreseeable future. Schrittwieser, like so many other educators in the same tumultuous boat, also admitted that, at present, “I am honestly just trying to see my way through each week of distance learning.”
    On a humorous note, Schrittwieser shared, “If Andy and Katrina [youngest of her three children] should, indeed, drive home from college for a home-cooked feast, Andy will find that his bedroom has been transformed into a distance learning first grade classroom!” She continued, “He will find himself sleeping among alphabet posters, stuffed animals, and boxes of first grade reading books and math manipulatives!”
    “Katrina will find her room has been converted to a storage space for furniture and items displaced in accommodating [spouse] Erwin’s home office in our bedroom,” she added. Talk about your authentic snapshot of COVID-19 life!
    Maisie Hom has a daughter flying home from the East Coast, a son coming home from college and a close family friend with an extremely compromised immune system. The Hom family is considering celebrating ‘Friendsgiving’ several weeks early, before the colder weather jump starts cold and flu season. Hom’s aging parents live in Hong Kong, so it is highly doubtful she will get to see them at either Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. Indeed, our hearts go out to those separated from family at the holidays, who have endured an uncomfortable separation since the quarantine began.
    Ann Kunczynski’s family typically spends Thanksgiving at an enormous gathering that spans five generations and joyfully spills out the living quarters of the host’s home and into the yard, with cousins of all ages. “This summer my grandfather cancelled the event, for obvious reasons,” she explained. “But the thought of not seeing anyone this year is kind of hard,” she admitted, adding, “Maybe we’ll still gather with only one other family.”
    Melissa Matosian wondered if this unusual, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants year could provide her big chance to finally replace the traditional turkey menu — food choices no one in her family particularly enjoys. “It’s a lot of work for dishes that no one is really in love with,” she laughed. “So I’m thinking, maybe this year I say to my relatives, ‘I’ll host, but we’re dressing Hawaiian and grilling turkey burgers!’”
    Whatever your preference, the staff of The Orinda News wishes you and yours a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!

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