They streamed to Plymouth from across the Twin Cities, on their way to pick up plastic containers of carrots, foil-wrapped platters of turkey and homemade sourdough rolls sorted out in brown paper bags.
At Av Gordon’s home, three generations congregated not in the dining room but out on the driveway for a Thanksgiving that was quintessentially 2020. Wearing masks and using turkey feathers drawn in chalk to stay 6 feet apart, they swapped dishes before meeting on Zoom — together briefly, then together apart.
“We knew we couldn’t get together around a table,” said Gordon, 79, a retired attorney. “It’s good to see people.”
Perhaps more than any other holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thanksgiving is the one that families near and far want to mark with a boisterous feast. But as coronavirus cases and deaths spike across the state, Minnesotans were forced Thursday to retool their cherished traditions.
For the Gordon family, the difficulty of the holiday was compounded by grief.
It was their first without Bari Gordon, the matriarch of the clan who died last month at 77 after years of declining health.
“We knew it was going to be a weird year because of losing her, and then of course COVID on top of that makes it all extra weird,” said her daughter, Abbe Bernstein of Minnetonka.
Holidays are bittersweet milestones after losing a loved one. But Bernstein knew that her mother, a holiday superfan, would have wanted her family to find a way to celebrate while abiding by the state’s rules limiting gatherings.
“Hospitality and holidays were a just a huge part of her life and our upbringing,” Bernstein said of her mother, who ran a store, Adbari’s, in Golden Valley that sold cake pans and decorating supplies.
Growing up in New Hope in one of the few Jewish families around, Bernstein said her mother embraced secular holidays. But Thanksgiving was her favorite: “The queen of side dishes,” Av Gordon said.
Bari Gordon would deck the table with a cornucopia and paper turkey, cook up three kinds of stuffing and orchestrate a feast for 40 people spread over two shifts. The co-worker or that stray roommate with nowhere to go for the day were invited, and Gordon would end the night handing out foil-wrapped chocolate turkeys and to-go containers crammed with leftovers.
“Everybody always joked that they never left my mom’s house hungry or empty-handed,” Bernstein said.
But this year isn’t like any other. The family celebrated Passover over Zoom, then held Bari’s funeral online with 200 people logging in to pay their respects. Bernstein hasn’t hugged her father in months, and her nieces are learning at home since Wayzata schools moved classes online. With international travel at a standstill, her daughter Sydney, a travel agent, is working partial hours at home. Her son Eli is swamped at his UPS job — not from holiday gifts but at-home COVID tests.
This Thanksgiving looked different, too. No out-of-town relatives. No hosting strangers. No prepping for Black Friday shopping. Just a Google spreadsheet tracking dishes to be prepared and taken home.
On Thursday’s gray, cold evening, about a dozen family members greeted one another with waves and brief chatter on Av Gordon’s driveway before exchanging dishes.
“It’s important in a difficult year to recognize the things we’re grateful for,” said Juli Olson of Maple Grove, Gordon’s daughter. “There’s still a lot to be grateful for.”
Not all the traditions were canceled. Abbe found the chocolate turkeys that her mother handed out. Juli made their grandmother’s signature stuffed celery. The usual pecan and pumpkin pies were sliced.
Bernstein said her mother would have loved the innovative celebration. “It’s a great way to honor her and support my dad — and a way for all of us to be together,” she said.
As everyone stood apart before dashing home to reheat dishes and log into Zoom for an encore toast, Av Gordon raised a plastic cup of punch.
“To better times,” he said. “To family.”