In our small Studio City living room, we have two Thanksgiving tables set up – sort of side-by-side like a separated “T”. It is crowded. It is fun. It is loud. You have to suck in your stomach to squeeze around a corner to get to the kitchen for more sweet potatoes. And it is full of people that have no relatives nearby. It is full of people who love us. It is full of our “friend family”.

East meets west… that’s me. I am from the Bronx, my husband is from Iowa and we have lived in LA for 24 years. When my husband and I first came here, we knew 3 people and, even though my husband is the middle of seven children, we had no relatives within a 1500 mile radius.

The first years when the kids were little were challenging.

I had always pictured a life like my mom’s with my grandmother and grandfather a stone’s throw away. Sunday family dinners, easy access to a loving babysitter… but instead we piece-mealed an untraditional life together. The kids came to lots of places with us. We did a lot of exploring together. When my husband was working and the kids were napping, I think I was lonely even though I was sort of used to an “alone” feeling.

I am an only child. In my Bronx neighborhood there were big families… 3, 4, 5, even 6 kids… I sometimes felt “less than” because I was always a tagalong to the big brood. I wanted a bigger family, I wanted a sibling. My father died when I was 22 and I then rolled around in the “why me?” – I was pretty much the first person I knew who had experienced a parental death. I allowed myself to get stuck in a place of lack… a lonely place of “I need more” to fit in, or be the same, or feel OK… I held onto my separateness like it was badge, like it defined me, like it was special or made me special.

Then it changed.

Instead of hanging on to old thoughts, I let go and I really saw my life.

Besides the gift of my family of four, my husband’s large family (we total something like 50 people with all the spouses and kids and, now, grand babies) are very loving and inclusive and hugged me right in and accepted me into their sea of connections. They are all so unique, from all across the country, with different views on a lot of things, and, yet, with all that, I know if I am ever in Texas or North Carolina or really anywhere that any one of them call home, I will find an open door, a place to sleep, a warm heart. And… this is big…

I was always lucky enough to have a friend.

Sometimes one or two close ones, sometimes a whole gaggle… People who choose me and who I choose to laugh with and share with and deal with… to love. It’s that wonderful, mysterious process where, without even realizing it, the roots begin to grow and people keep showing up and you see the same smiles and you look forward to helping and, wow… you have a group to call your own.

I realize now that family is what I make it… It can be a blood thing or friend thing or a pet thing. It can be large or small. It can be by phone or over a cup of tea or in a group online. Love is unlimited and ever-present, I just need to see it and nurture it.

Now, at Thanksgiving, as I squeeze past my friends for another piece of pie, I realize that I am surrounded by my large self-made family and perhaps I always have been and…


I am so grateful.

What makes your Thanksgiving gathering special to you?


  1. Cheryl

    What a lovely story Alison. I can relate to the big family…love it. I’m from a family of 8 (6 kids.)
    I will be feeding 27 in our small Studio City living room this year. Tony & I will probably stand. Even if I rounded up 2 more chairs, there is no way to make it all fit. It’s great fun though.

  2. Jeanmarie Latii

    Thank you all and I love the recipes!
    Happy Holidays and many blessings to you and your families.
    Special healing prayers out to Alex.

    • Lynette

      Always something to make me smile and think – and be grateful that Alison Martin is my friend.

  3. Sheila Fisher

    Love you sweetie. Beautifully written, as always. Set a place for me in your heart of tables.
    – Sheila

  4. Jeanne

    I love this story of love!

  5. Madeline

    How wonderful! Truly a chosen family. <3 <3

  6. Becky

    As your family member (now from NC)….I loved this piece!
    I bet you have made your California Thanksgiving so special to so many people.
    Our Thanksgiving will include 3 families and probably 16 people with our newest member in his high chair.
    Maybe one day we can be a part of your celebrate together. Until then i hope to see you at the next wedding.
    Love you sister-in-law of mine.

  7. Rhonda Hayter

    I love this. We’re transplants too and our friend/family fills our lives

  8. Becky Couture

    I still love this piece…this year,2020, is going to be so different for so many families. I’d love to hear what your Thanksgiving will be like under all the Covid-19 restrictions. I’m sure there will still be lots of love and food and family, just not so many friends this time.
    Love you lots, your NC sister-in-law.

  9. Jeanne LaPorte

    Yes! This year cries for more of yesteryear. This year my mother and sister will leave empty places at the table but like my husband before them, continue to fill our hearts.
    May we always hold something to be thankful for.


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Alison Martin

Alison Martin -- wife, mom, Emmy-award winning actress, writer, chocoholic. Bronx Italian, daughter of Pultizer Prize winning reporters, who also identifies as L.A. Irish. Shout outs: Dan, Emilia, Brady, pooches - LuLu & Ted, friends, Mother Earth, serendipity, peace, VIPHS, Boldfaced Secret, living life like your socks feel real good.

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