Thanksgiving with a different kind of family

Friends, from left, Kelsey Smith, with her daughter Hadley, 2, in her lap, talks with Jessica Whitman and her daughter, Charlotte, 11 months, and Amanda Lopez and her daughter Grace, 1, during Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, at Smith's home in Groton. Smith and her husband, Josh, who is deployed, have an annual tradition of hosting Navy families for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Friends, from left, Kelsey Smith, with her daughter Hadley, 2, in her lap, talks with Jessica Whitman and her daughter, Charlotte, 11 months, and Amanda Lopez and her daughter Grace, 1, during Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, at Smith's home in Groton. Smith and her husband, Josh, who is deployed, have an annual tradition of hosting Navy families for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Groton — With her husband somewhere in the depths of the ocean, Kelsey Smith juggled a full house on Thursday.

There were more people than planned, but plans change and people know they can always come to her house, she said.

Smith and her husband, Josh, a Navy submariner, are used to hosting a big Thanksgiving meal — opening their home to other Navy families and single sailors who can't make it home for the holidays.

The first year they moved in to their house in Groton, the Smiths rented six tables from the Naval Submarine Base and cooked three turkeys, inviting over many of their single sailor friends who didn't have anywhere else to go.

This Thanksgiving was the first without Josh, who is deployed on a nuclear attack submarine, but Smith kept with tradition — hosting a family-style, potluck meal.

Two long tables lined the dining room and living room — occupied by two of Josh's friends from boot camp and their families — and a small kids' table was set up in the kitchen.

The families have spent several Thanksgivings together. Josh's friends, who also are submariners, recalled past holidays when they were underway or on watch. The cooks on his submarine would be making a Thanksgiving meal for Josh and the rest of the crew, wherever they were, his friend David Zuckerman noted.

An accepted part of life for a submariner is that life at home goes on without you.

Jessica Whitman noted that in addition to Thanksgiving, her husband, Jacob, also will miss Christmas and their daughter Charlotte's first birthday.

"She won't remember it," Smith reassured her.

Originally from Alabama, Whitman was thankful she had somewhere local that she could spend Thanksgiving. Getting into a routine with Charlotte has helped pass the time while her husband is gone, she said.

Smith tries not to count down the days — it makes it easier for her and kids, Hadley, 2, and Colton, 7, if Josh is "out of sight, out of mind." But she does take note of holidays, because they mean it's closer to him being home.

Celebrating holidays together is just one of the ways that the women rely on one another while their husbands are deployed. They alternate babysitting one another's kids, organize get-togethers, sign their kids up for the same classes.

As Esteban Ramirez, also a submariner and a friend of Josh's from boot camp, put it, at this point, Kelsey Smith and his own wife, Alexis, are closer than he and Josh.

j.bergman@theday.com

Jessica Whitman feeds her daughter, Charlotte, 11 months old, as a group of friends and family who have relatives in the Navy join for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, at a home in Groton.  Kelsey Smith and her husband, Josh, who is deployed, have an annual tradition of hosting Navy families for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Jessica Whitman feeds her daughter, Charlotte, 11 months old, as a group of friends and family who have relatives in the Navy join for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, at a home in Groton. Kelsey Smith and her husband, Josh, who is deployed, have an annual tradition of hosting Navy families for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments