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A Thanksgiving Ode to My Mother-in-Law

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of you are probably busy scouring cookbooks for gluten-free green bean casserole recipes or looking to put a new spin on mashed potatoes for the annual family feast. But not me. Instead, I will be traveling to a magical place where all the food is prepared for me, exactly (and I do mean exactly) like it was last year, and the year before that. No, it’s not Cracker Barrel, but the food is just about as consistent and the pace nearly as frenetic as this beloved roadside attraction.

Even better than this “home cooked” eatery though, is that when you dine at my magical place, you do not receive a bill. You may have to wash a few dishes, but that is a small price to pay for the annual Thanksgiving feast that is lovingly, methodically orchestrated by my mother-in-law, Janet.

Theresa and her mother-in-law Janet enjoy some Thanksgiving morning Bloody Marys several years ago. Never fear—it will be exactly the same this year!

Enjoying some Thanksgiving morning Bloody Marys with my mother-in-law Janet enjoyed  several years ago. Never fear—it will be exactly the same this year!

Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house harbors no surprises; it’s as reliable as the ocean’s tides. It is not an opportunity for culinary showmanship or a chance to try out a new recipe that caught your interest in Bon Appetit or on Epicurious. This is a time for turkey braised in red gravy, noodles, sliced yam disks with butter and cinnamon, cornbread dressing, corn, peas, apple celery salad, cranberries (jellied and whole), rolls, and pumpkin and pecan pies. That is the menu, forever and ever, amen.
Janet can survey the spread and—in an instant—detect if the slightest pea is missing from the table. It doesn’t really matter if no one particularly cares about that dish; if it’s missing, it will be whipped up and quickly wedged onto the table—already overflowing with a cornucopia of food. If that item is on the Thanksgiving menu, it will be on the table.

Theresa's mother-in-law carves the Thanksgiving turkey in her kitchen while her husband John supervises.

Carving the Thanksgiving turkey in the kitchen with a little supervision.

Now, this might sound a little OCD (and maybe it is), but more than that, it’s the best of what Thanksgiving is all about: die hard, unquestioned tradition. Janet’s sense of order and consistency perhaps stems from raising eight children in a non-air conditioned, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Mobile, Alabama. If she did not run a tight ship, things might—quite literally—have fallen apart.

When the Laurence children, along with their spouses and children, come home for the holidays, it is Janet’s time to dote on them with her cooking. Her kitchen is her domain, and feeding her family is one of her greatest pleasures. I think one of the highlights of our visits are the chance for her to make a double batch of her deliciously fluffy biscuits with her grandchildren and watch them devour every last crumb.


My children, Rosalie and Elliott, helping make biscuits with their grandparents.

My children, Rosalie and Elliott, helping make biscuits with their grandparents.

It’s always a treat to go to Mobile for Thanksgiving, because I know the fridge will be bursting at the seams with food, and the squeaky cooler will be filled to the brim with ice cold beer (always Budweiser or Yuengling). There’s never a question of where your next meal is coming from—it is coming from Janet’s kitchen, and chances are it will be hearty, familiar, and deeply satisfying.

The rest of the world may be a scary, unpredictable place, but inside this home on Thanksgiving (or most any other day of the year), you can find a warm, welcoming table and some fine Southern hospitality. And this year, as always, I’m incredibly thankful to be a part of that.


4 Responses to A Thanksgiving Ode to My Mother-in-Law

  1. Sarah Masline November 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks Theresa for such a beautiful recounting of our thanksgiving tradition.

  2. Anna Gillman November 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    I second SJ Theresa, thank you. To all, as a long time family friend I have witnessed the love in their home. It is beautiful and the food is devine!

  3. sam walsh December 3, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    dropping by the Laurence house for Thanksgiving is just one in a very long line of wonderful memories I have. moving to Mobile was one of the best decisions my parents ever made, largely in part because they put uncle Johnny and aunt Janet in our lives, and we were children that needed them. they were the best role models a niece could ever have, and because of them I know what a strong family looks like. thank you so much for sharing this, I am flooded with great ole memories, and suddenly have a craving for divinity and other jars of Christmas goodies!


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