The Orphan Holidays

By Linda Lenzke

The Thanksgiving holiday is approaching. For many of us this means the gathering of family around a table, dressed in the bounty of the season, replete with cherished family recipes, plus heated debates on the best way to prepare and carve a turkey and who will win the football game.  And finally, speculation on which relative will drink too much and behave regrettably.

For me, and a group of my recovering, alcoholic, lesbian friends, significant others, and our children, Thanksgiving was simply one of The Orphan Holidays. For over 20 years, we referred to ourselves as The Orphans. Many of us were estranged from our families, due to distance, or because of who we loved or how we lived our lives. We became a family of choice and created our own rich traditions and rituals.

The Orphan Holidays always featured food, an open door to those who had no other place to go, a safe space to practice recovery, and a gathering place for the families we created. There was Thanksgiving and Christmas of course, a New Year’s Day Pajama Brunch, Easter dinner, and cookouts for the 4th of July and Labor Day. The hallmark of the summer, however, was our annual Memorial Day Weekend camping trip. For many of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, the season opener for bratwurst, camping and communing with nature. Here in Wisconsin that also means sharing time outdoors with mosquitoes, black flies, and if you’re camping in the wild — pesky raccoons.

Our destination: Fish Creek’s Peninsula State Park in Door County.  Food was an integral element of this Orphan Holiday, beginning with the trip there. First stop, Chilton, Wisconsin for a breakfast that included potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade applesauce. Next stop, arrive at the park, setup camp, then drive into Fish Creek to Not Licked Yet Frozen Custard, and when finished sit on top of the trash receptacles with the signs that read, “Already Been Licked,” and take our photographs creating a bit of a ruckus eliciting snickers from the other customers. We’d stop by the White Gull Inn and make our reservations for our Saturday night fish boil where we’d fill half the seats of the restaurant.

One year as we were setting up camp, the Park Ranger stopped by to warn us of an usual season of pesky, aggressive raccoons disturbing campsites, ravaging food supplies and scattering trash. He suggested that we make sure we put our garbage in the trunks of our cars and securely store our food. As he looked around and noticed that all the adults in our group were women he smiled and offered flirtatiously, “If you get the fire started, I’ll bring the bratwurst!” My friend Karen in her husky smoker’s voice and sarcastic wit threatened as her eyes fixed on him just below the waist, “You try that and we’ll cut it off, put it on stick and roast it over the fire!”  Everyone laughed, including the Ranger and especially the pre-teen children in our group.

We heeded the advice of the Ranger as we broke down camp that night, putting out the fire and cleaning up the campsite. My partner drove her red Chevy pickup with the topper on the back. I suggested we put all the food and trash in the back of the topper, securely locked up.  I volunteered to pack up the truck thinking, those raccoons we’ll never get to our food.

The next morning I was shocked to discover that the night before I forgot to check the windows in the truck cabin. The passenger window was wide open. Worse yet, inside the cab of the truck was all of my girlfriend’s PMS food, squirreled away in every compartment, between the seats and in the console, her stash of chocolate chip cookies, Hostess chocolate cupcakes, and chocolate-covered peanuts. The entire truck cabin had been the scene of a feeding frenzy by crazed raccoons, leaving fingerprints and saliva, mixed with crumbs and half-eaten food smeared on the windows, in the crevices of the dashboard and ground into the upholstery. As we all surrounded the truck we noticed that the little raccoon fingers had successfully peeled back the protective cellophane packaging of the Hostess cupcakes to sample the sweet devil’s food cake and creamy filling. Then my partner let out a blood-curdling scream, “Oh my God, they ate my Prozac!” Yes, sitting in the console of her truck was the opened prescription Prozac bottle. We debated on whether she left the bottle open or if it was even possible for pesky, highly-motivated, crazed raccoons to open a child-proof cap.

The Ranger, noticing our group of campers surrounding the truck, pulled over to investigate. In his chirpy morning voice he asked, “Good morning ladies, what’s up besides the sun?” Yes, my friend Karen rolled her eyes and let out a groan, as we proceeded to tell him about the invasion of the pesky raccoons now on Prozac. In that moment, the Ranger and our group of orphan, lesbian, recovering-alcoholic friends and family shared a laugh and imagined the woods were full of medicated raccoons, no longer depressed and gorged on chocolate. Unfortunately, my partner was morose. Both her PMS food and Prozac were gone. She made me clean up the truck for my penance.


Bonus! Linda shares her recipe for Cranberry Bars, which I very much enjoyed at our recent Story Night.

Iced Cranberry Bars

Makes 45 small bars

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups whole fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

For frosting, see recipe below.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

In bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, salt, baking powder, cranberries and nuts.

Pour batter into pan. Bake in preheated oven 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely.

Spread with frosting and cut into small bars.


  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 4 ounces cream cheese room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In bowl, beat together all ingredients.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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