Thanksgiving for our family is about gratitude.
While we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional sense, we usually still gather with family and cook together. Planning and preparing a meal together has never been a challenge without owning a car. And as with many others striving to be car-free, just because we don’t own a car doesn’t mean we avoid the use of vehicles altogether.
For many years, we have grown some of our own food in our backyard gardens. On Thanksgiving morning, we usually prepare an egg bake with eggs from our backyard hens and veggies from the garden, CSA (community-supported agriculture) and/or the store (the chickens are great helpers with any food scraps from any meal).
Beets from the garden will be part of our meal this year, and they came from our own backyard. We have also been members of Fresh Earth Farms CSA for several years, including doing a winter share each year. We can pick up our share just a few blocks from home at Ginkgo Coffeehouse near Hamline University in St. Paul.
This year is no different. We have squash of all shapes and sizes, much of which will be a part of our shared meal in one form or another. We also still have ample potatoes, onions and other veggies from our CSA that we saved up for today’s meal. We purchase bread and pies from Brake Bread, a local bakery that delivers bread by bicycle. Joe (my partner) works there part time, so he brings home the bread and pies by bike to our home.
When we do have meat, we try to order a turkey from a nearby farm and pick it up locally. In a pinch, we will order groceries with a food delivery service like Instacart, which we did this Thanksgiving.
When traveling for the holiday, we either carpool with family who are also traveling or we take the bus or train, depending on where we are going. We have family all over the world, and certainly all over the Midwest, so travel can be a logistical and financial challenge for any one of us — car ownership or not.
One funny story is about the table around which we gather for special occasions and daily meals. It is a large round wooden table with multiple leaves that expand the table to seat up to 10 people. We purchased the table at Goodwill in the St. Paul Midway neighborhood, not too far from our house.
When we pulled up on our bikes to carry it home, the employees were equally skeptical and curious. We loaded the table and each of the leaves carefully onto our 500-pound-capacity Bikes at Work trailer, wrapping pieces in blankets so they wouldn’t get scratched.
More than a decade later, we still use the table every day, and expand it each holiday or birthday to make room for our expanding family.
Living in Community
We’ve described the how and the what a bit, but not our why. Why do we live in this way? Beyond the savings and built-in exercise, our why continues to evolve over the nearly two decades of living without a car.
At any time of year, in any season, being car-free and — more importantly — navigating this world by foot and by bicycle keeps us in touch with nature, our community and our hearts. In the fall especially, riding in the colder air, the smell and crunch of the leaves. And witnessing the shifting from the humidity and green canopy of summer shade to the brisk wind, sunshine and landscape of stark shapes that late fall brings. We are enveloped in the natural world and in community in an open and vulnerable way. And in being so exposed riding around in the city, the realities of life here are laid bare. The beautiful, and the tragic.
Our neighborhood, and many that we traverse, are home to unhomed individuals and families struggling to survive. We have seen acts of kindness alongside the consequences of addiction. Without a barrier between us and our neighbors, our interconnectedness is impossible to turn away from. This is why we continue to live in this way — to remain connected with an immediacy and without barriers between us.
We are grateful for all we’ve been able to do without owning a car, and we acknowledge that we rely on vehicles in various ways. We are grateful that we can grow some of our own food, and we acknowledge that not every household is able to do so. We are grateful that we are able to break bread together during the holidays, and we acknowledge the complicated history of this particular holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving or however you choose to celebrate community and gratitude this week. May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy. May you be at ease.