The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

Thanksgiving has always been a day for getting together with family and friends to share a meal. It’s not about gifts and decorations, or chocolate and roses, or costumes and candy, or Jesus. There are no make-believe characters like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny involved. It’s just family, friends and food.

This year, however, all of the holidays (except Valentine’s Day), including Thanksgiving, were kidnapped. The year 2020 had barely gotten off its feet when **WHAM! **, its knees were knocked out from under it, a mask got slapped on its face, and it was hauled off to spend the rest of its days in solitary confinement with a temperature, a cough, and a raging headache. Ransom is a vaccine which has yet to be paid. COVID the Kidnapper dictated: no family gatherings, no celebrations, no graduation parties, no wedding receptions, and sadly, not even funerals.

The notable holiday of Thanksgiving was supposed to be yesterday, but when we couldn’t get together with friends and family, the only thing left to identify the day as a holiday was the traditional fare.

We had planned a compromise with the dastardly disease. Taking a cue from Jackie, a friend in Lincoln, NE, we were going to empty the garage, set up tables, floor lamps and space heaters, and have three neighbors over to enjoy turkey dinner in what Jackie coined our dinage. We would sit at least six feet apart, keep the garage/dinage door open, crank the space heaters, and make memories we would talk about for years to come. Thanksgiving dinner in the garage? Who’da thunk.

But things got worse and we all got cold feet. (So much for space heaters.) We moved to Plan B, which was this: Neighbors Elise and Lauren made their favorite family yeast rolls, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Joe and I made sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, gravy, and pies. We set an appointed time when we met with masks on and we traded side dishes, delivering some to neighbor Charley as well. We each had our own turkeys, so we sat down at our respective tables in our respective homes with our respective turkeys and communal sides, logged into Zoom, and enjoyed our meal “together.”

Notice I didn’t mention any salad on the menu. That’s because, of all the dishes served on Thanksgiving, the one that has the most variations on the theme is salad. Well, there’s stuffing, also known as dressing. What we call this sagey, thymey, rosemary-y side dish is up for debate. I don’t eat it no matter what it’s called, so it is not on my radar screen. But salad…now that’s a Jell-O of a different flavor.

My friend Linda told me she made the one with the pretzel/butter/sugar crust, a layer of whipped cream, cream cheese and sugar mixed together, topped with strawberries in strawberry Jell-O. My family calls it Pretzel Jell-O Salad. If that’s not in your repertoire, there’s the Mountain Dew Salad, which has lemon pie filling, whipped topping, marshmallows and Mountain Dew in it. But it also has pineapple juice and a banana, and that’s what makes it a salad. It’s so good for you! Don’t have any Mountain Dew on hand? Go for the Raspberry Fluff Salad, which, you can guess, has whipped topping, vanilla pudding and raspberries, but can be made with many other fruits. As long as there is some sort of fruit in it, it’s qualifies as a salad. (No, marshmallows do not count as fruit.)

Most salady of all is the Snicker Salad, which meets the salad criterion because it has apples in it, in addition to whipped topping, pudding and cubed Snickers bars. Some recipes even call for a little caramel sauce drizzled on top, because what’s a salad without caramel! I cringe when I admit this, but I had this salad once and I liked it. However, I had to go to confession the next day: “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I ate a Snickers Salad.”

If you love the idea of these salads but they weren’t traditional enough for your customary Thanksgiving meal, you could have whipped up one of the old standbys: Watergate Salad, Ambrosia Salad and Frog-Eye Salad, all made with pineapple, marshmallows and whipped topping (which is a topic for another day. For now, it is suffice to say whipped cream is a whipped topping but whipped topping is not whipped cream.)

If you thought that, because this was probably the only COVID Thanksgiving you’d ever experience, you needed to break the sweet salad mold, you could have gone with the celery/grated carrots/cabbage and lime Jell-O salad. No marshmallows, whipped cream, cream cheese or caramel sauce. If you chose to go this route, you should probably plan a trip to the confessional today: “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I ate a Thanksgiving Day salad that truly was good for me.”

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address,

© 2020 Sarah Donohoe

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