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A No-Thanks Thanksgiving

(by Aimee Lee Ball)

A break-up with the man I’d thought was the love of my life, right before Thanksgiving, was exceptionally bad timing (although, as sociologists point out, quite common), and I couldn’t bear to join the traditional holiday dinner hosted by dear friends—a gorgeous feast where everybody brought their significant others: spouses, parents, siblings, or children. That year, like Garbo, I wanted to be alone.

My creative mother had another idea: She purchased a Holiday With the Amish. We would drive to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and have Thanksgiving dinner with a Pennsylvania Dutch family. A night in a nearby motel was included in the “package.” It sounded just oddball enough to distract me from my misery.

Regret set in the moment we pulled up to the grim little home of our hosts. They looked like a version of Grant Wood’s "American Gothic"—dour and unresponsive. We were escorted into their tiny kitchen, where a card table was set with four places, in front of the sink. A stack of Wonder Bread was on a plate, with a tub of margarine and a bottle of Wishbone dressing for the salad of iceberg lettuce. A small turkey breast was carved into thin slices and embellished with gelatinous gravy. Jell-O and a can of whipped cream were presented for dessert alongside the pie we had brought as a gift. The beverage was water.

Even such a comically pitiful repast would have been okay, had the company been cordial, but after a cursory “Hello,” they were mute—clearly drawn to this hosting idea for some financial compensation, rather than any desire to share their bounty or heritage. Mom (no slouch when it came to charming strangers) rose to the challenge of trying to engage them, and I even made an effort, but it was hopeless. Declining an offer of Sanka, we fled…

…back to what seemed like the Bates motel, where I locked myself in the bathroom to have a good cry, while Mom paced outside the door, occasionally pleading for entry.

Although I still remember this holiday with a shudder, it was actually a good lesson in the true meaning of Thanksgiving. These sad people were not my people. My people included the wonderful family of friends who laughed about the experience with me, welcoming me back into the fold the following year, my heart healed. My people included a mother whose only intention was to make me less miserable (and who was wise enough to buy extra chestnuts to nibble while making turkey dressing, and to hide some of her fabulous cranberry relish for a midnight snack over vanilla ice cream). Thanks, indeed, for all of them.


Aimee Lee Ball is the co-founder and editor of Eat, Darling, Eat, and a journalist whose work is at

Fruit and Nut Dressing

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

2 c. minced yellow onions

3 c. coarsely chopped unpeeled Granny Smith apples

2 c. roasted chestnuts

1 1/2 c. dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 c. pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

1 c. chopped celery

4 c. coarsely crumbled cornbread

5 c. coarsely crumbled French or Italian bread

grated rind of 1 orange

1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley

1 1/2 c. chopped pecans

2 t. dried thyme

salt to taste

freshly ground pepper

vegetable stock

Melt half the butter in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until lightly colored.

Set aside in a large bowl.

Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet over medium heat and sauté the apples until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add apples to the bowl, along with remaining ingredients, mixing gently.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Place in a buttered casserole and bake for about 40 minutes, or until browned on top, basting occasionally with vegetable stock.


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