In the Suburbs: Spending a Thanksgiving away with family at last

A year ago with no Thanksgiving celebration planned, my wife and I decided to create our own menu, order prime rib, trimmings and great desserts from Ralph and Rich’s in Bridgeport and do a Zoom call with my wife’s family in Virginia. We dusted off our little used dining room table, set out our best Dixie paper plates and feasted on one of the best Thanksgiving dinners ever.

Mind you, we love turkey and all the great side dishes, but last year it was just nice to chill, watch a bunch of Hallmark movies about other folks cooking and celebrating mostly Christmas feasts. And we were joined by all of my wife’s family and our kids on that Zoom call. It was great.

The messiah of vaccines loomed on the horizon for the coming year, COVID cases were dropping, but masks continued to be our way of life through the entire 2020 holiday season with no real deadline planned.

Our 2021 Thanksgiving will be special — a return trip to our special family gathering in Virginia with my wife’s family. We had also hoped to see my brother and sister-in-law in Maryland, but they felt it was just too soon to do an in-person get-together.

So, my new electric car is charged up for the six-hour-plus journey to Stephens City, Virginia about an hour and a half outside of D.C. and an hour from the West Virginia border. I had to identify two sets of charging stations along the way, because the car gets about 260 miles and the drive is about 360 miles. I’m keeping fingers crossed that the locations and rapid chargers work so we’re not stranded for hours.

Our only change for this Thanksgiving was to ask whether all family members down south, along with their kids, have been vaccinated or plan to be. Fortunately, my wife and I had tests just in the last two weeks, because several students in our charter school had tested positive for COVID and my wife had routine surgery last week, but needed negative test results.

Yes, it will still be a guarded family gathering for us and probably millions of families across the nation. But we’re excited and we’re going!

I probably say this every year, but this year in particular I have a lot for which to be thankful. At the top of the list is health. Despite the ongoing scourge of this pandemic, my wife and I are both in good health. We survived the three vaccinations we’ve had, our lives have been pretty routine and we’ve been able to really enjoy our daughter and our grandchildren, who are also in good health. We consider that a real blessing.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to continue working at the charter school where I have been teaching for the past eight-plus years, as well as at the Fairfield University Bookstore where I am also in my ninth year.

And this year with visa restrictions lifted for the Chinese exchange students at Fairfield Prep, I have had the opportunity to tutor again and I am truly enjoying the student I have. He is a terrific student and has a very conscientious attitude. His host family is wonderful also and very supportive.

I am always thankful for my wife, who has put up with me these past 55-plus years and for being the loving and caring person she is. I am also thankful that despite issues she is having with her back, my wife has been feeling better now that she is having physical therapy. While days are not consistently perfect, she has been able to walk better.

Our older daughter is a wonderful mom and has been terrific with her boys. Lucas is now 10 and thriving as a fourth grader and Caleb is now 2 and is doing well in daycare. Thankfully, getting the boys through a brief bout with COVID early in the year, but staying healthy herself has given her a lot to be thankful for too. She’ll be joining us in Virginia as well.

Our younger daughter and her husband in Michigan continue to make me grateful at this time of the year. We miss not having been able to see them over the last few Thanksgivings, but our daughter Jeri will be flying to D.C. Wednesday to help us celebrate this holiday. That is very exciting.

And we remain thankful for family and good friends who continue to be there for us and provide support when we need it. Being able to reach out to family members and just vent when stress builds and do the same with friends has made all the difference in getting through this pandemic.

As we hit the road this week, we are looking forward to reconnecting with family, sharing good times and great stories and making this the best Thanksgiving ever. After all, chowing down on great food , drinking wine and beer and trying great desserts are what it’s all about.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at