A year ago, Americans were planning low-key Thanksgiving gatherings with a small pod of family members amid the height of the pandemic, trying to figure out how to shovel in turkey and mashed potatoes while lifting their masks above their mouths.

This year we’re looking forward to a sort-of-normal return to Thanksgiving celebrations.

Still, it isn’t quite what we’d hoped it would be this time last year, as hospital beds keep filling up.

Which has created a dilemma for many: to ask or not to ask.

According to a recent survey from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, about half of adults said they plan to ask their potential Thanksgiving guests if they’re vaccinated.

It’s an awkward situation. The toughest question posed to guests in the past was “Wanna bring cranberries or a pie?”

And we’re all being bombarded with stories about dire supply shortages, telling us we better get out there today and start stocking up on Thanksgiving food — and while we’re at it, get going on that Christmas shopping so you don’t disappoint your little ones by not being able to find a Crayola Light Up Tracing Pad or Spider-Man RC Flying Figure.

Sure, we’ve all found a few sparse shelves in stores, but it doesn’t exactly crush the quality of our life.

Retailers, who never miss a chance for good marketing, might be driving some of the shortage fear to their own benefit: Get out there and buy early, buy often and buy some more, just in case.

In fact big retailers, including Walmart, Home Depot and Target, told their investors this week they have more than enough inventory for the holidays. Businesses — from manufacturers to retailers — aren’t run by dummies. Many months ago they started figuring out ways to get the raw products and inventory they need.

Kraft Heinz told the Wall Street Journal that people won’t have to worry about not finding their Stove Top Stuffing — they boosted production of it 25% ahead of the holidays.

And even if you can’t find every ingredient you were seeking for your Thanksgiving menu, just make some substitutions, be willing to alter the normal traditions and everything will be fine. It’s something Americans have always done.

A Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas did just that. While turkey was always something on many Thanksgiving tables, it wasn’t the staple it is today until relatively recent times.

In 1953 Swanson colossally miscalculated the level of the American appetite for Thanksgiving turkey, leaving the company with about 260 tons of frozen birds sitting in 10 refrigerated railroad cars.

Thomas, always looking for new markets, ordered thousands of aluminum trays and set up an assembly line with workers using ice-cream scoops to put turkey, corn-bread dressing and gravy, peas and sweet potatoes in the different compartments. The TV dinner was created.

So if you’re shopping for ingredients for Grandma’s famous family stuffing recipe and can’t find them, don’t worry.

Just go over to the boxed dinner aisle and get some Stovetop Stuffing. Truth be told, your guests will like it better.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 507-344-6383.

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