Thankful.

Turkey day. I was disappointed to learn, long after I'd booked my flight back, that my picture-perfect family would not, in fact, be coming together for Thanksgiving dinner this year. My aunt had been dethroned as Queen of the Themed Turkey Feast, and my grandmother was taking over the planning of a Thanksgiving…brunch.

Something is not right. Something is not right. We do not. Eat brunch. On Thanksgiving.

We are a family. of. tradition. We drive to my aunt's house. We drink a lot. We snack on hors-d'oeuvres until we can't bear the thought of a big dinner. I pad into the nicotine-choked kitchen in my tights; my aunt refuses the help, smoking like a chimney as she talks. She's been drinking since breakfast. Then the bell rings — really, a bell, ding-a-ling — when the aforementioned big dinner is ready. We assemble at our assigned seats, with place cards in their little brass clips, drink a lot and make forced merriment and eat ourselves silly yet again. We help clear the dishes, a big, woofing bird dog named Bob underfoot, begging for scraps, then eat dessert and drink coffee and make more forced merriment, until our little family unit is allowed to return to the house, bundle up and head to watch some D-list celebrity flip the switch on the Christmas lights downtown.

Brunch is for Chicago Sundays and friends and the cacophonous laughter and the clatter of a commercial kitchen, not Wisconsin ham and hors-d'oeuvres and drinks in monogrammed glasses and polite right-leaning conversation. And certainly not for Thanksgiving.

But in the spirit of Points of No Return, I swallowed my doubt and flew back all the same. All the same, but nothing is the same. From the Summer of Silence through today, everything has changed here. But we go on. This morning, I hauled myself out of bed, cleaned up and headed to the land of my collegiate alma mater. Visited a friend. Ate some pizza. Drank some beer.

Then I drove back. And when I walked in the house, the kitchen was filled with smoke — but not the nicotine kind: a juicy, brined turkey, dripping into the oven. Potatoes boiling on the stove, green beans on the cutting board. Juices in a saucepan, sautéed mushrooms at the ready for gravy. A silver mixing bowl full of homemade cranberry jelly. A Thanksgiving feast in the making, a full day early.

And I thought, what the hell. We are a family. of. tradition. And not always in a good way, if you can tell. We don't eat Thanksgiving dinner here.

But I'll take this change.

The four of us, our little family unit, sat around the glass dining room table tonight, after enough cheese and crackers to forget we had a big meal on the way, and ate together. My stepdad, a pastor, said a quick prayer after we'd heaped food onto our plates. We dug in. I had seconds (because that's the kind of girl I am).

We joked, we laughed. We liked each other.

And I was thankful. Surprised, but thankful all the same.