Thanksgiving is typically the great American feast day, and I much prefer pulling out all the stops for a big celebration than just getting by. However, I’m not in the mood this year to prepare a month’s worth of food for a single sitting that will end up leaving leftovers. I’ll probably wake up on Thanksgiving morning, wishing I’d made a greater effort, but at this moment I’m not feeling inspired.
The holiday lacks something if I haven’t spent the day in the kitchen, but I also have wonderful memories when someone else did all the work such as six years ago in Vancouver, B.C. (“Market” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the Shangri-la Hotel) and eight years ago in Santa Fe (the restaurant at the El Dorado). Those are the two best Thanksgiving dinners I’ve ever eaten, and the trips came about after our experience nine years ago in Las Vegas where I shut down emotionally after experiencing one hotel’s version of Thanksgiving dinner. When I came to, I called upon the forces of the universe to raze that establishment, and I’m happy to report that it no longer exists.
I don’t know when Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. It could have been in elementary school when I learned that we were getting a four-day weekend a month before Christmas break. Combine the excitement of some much-needed time off with tracing one’s hand to make a turkey or reams of construction paper to make pilgrim hats before we departed, and I was in the mood to celebrate. We learned all of the sanitized tales of colonial living, and the bulletin boards were decked out in fall colors with Norman Rockwell images. Who couldn’t love that?
Thanksgiving morning in the central time zone meant leisurely watching the Macy’s parade while getting ready to spend the day at one or the other of my grandparents’ (we alternated each year), but the morning wasn’t as relaxed and joyful for my mother as she was confined to her least favorite room in the house.
I never knew when she’d been told what to cook, but I can only imagine the assignment had been made at knifepoint. Sometimes on Wednesday night, but usually Thursday morning, I’d hear the sounds of bowls rattling, utensils being flung, cans being opened, and a general groan of discontent coming from the kitchen. I didn’t understand then, but now I can sympathize, knowing I’d feel the same way if I were told to change the tires on a monster truck the night before a rally.
Hot food was eventually loaded in the car, driven for thirty minutes or forty-five depending on which grandparents, and then the cooling food rested somewhere until it was served unless it belonged in the refrigerator. If the fridge was too crowded, items that wouldn’t collapse without chilling sat near the hot food. I survived childhood without any foodborne illnesses from a holiday dinner, but I never had hot turkey and dressing unless it was at school.
Neither of my grandmothers possessed a sense of presentation. There was an abundance of food, but one side of the family put every dish on the table and passed it around while the other side set up a buffet. There were no candles or centerpieces at either house. Turkeys were never plated on a bed of greens and carved at the table, which was best in the case of my maternal grandmother’s bird. She roasted it hot and very early. When I took a peek in the kitchen, there was always something resting under foil that appeared to have smoked in the sun for 40 years. The next time I saw it, it had been artlessly shredded and piled on a plate.
Both sides of the family ate at noon, unless my maternal grandfather pushed for 11:45. That’s probably why no one thought we needed candles. My dad’s family all sat down together, including children, while the men on my mother’s side got their food first, the children second, and once we were all situated, the women had their turn. They women didn’t get to sit more than a second or two because the men, who ate like pie-eating contestants, were already searching for dessert.
On both sides, the whole show was over in less than forty-five minutes, as there was probably a football game someone couldn’t miss. I always thought we should take things slower, but I was one of the youngest and didn’t have a say. As the dishes were being washed, the high doses of carbohydrates and tryptophan brought on a powerful drowsiness in the men, and those whose wives had awakened them before dawn with all that banging around the kitchen were completely conked out with the sound of a ball game barely covering their snores. I came to believe that every living room in the country was filled with unconscious bodies, which looked like the scene of a cult after the Kool-Aid.
Eventually, I’d have opportunities to host Thanksgiving dinners the way I thought they should look, but I’ve never forgotten the joys of my childhood holidays even if those meals at unembellished tables had been rushed. I’ve had Thanksgivings that were magazine layout perfect, and I’ve had Thanksgivings that are best forgotten. In the end, the food and the atmosphere aren’t as important as those who gather together.
© 2017 by Patrick BrownTo learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1