Mister Turkey, big and fat.
We worked our asses off. I’ll not beat about the bush here, nor give others credit for our hard work. On Thanksgiving Thursday, queen of Vaguebook, my elder sister-in-law finally wrote something specific:
“It’s officially thanksgiving. I’ve made 3 store runs. And apparently we’re feeding an army. So much food.”
Please forgive my choking indignation but by this point we’d already twice driven an hour and back again to Whole Foods to fulfill my mother-in-law’s specification that as many foods as possible on the Thanksgiving table be organic. On top of this we’d visited Shoprite twice, A&P once and Stop & Shop so many times I ran out of fingers to count our visits upon. Some of these trips were made in the dead of night, when the only souls haunting the food halls were employees shuffling, desperate to be on their way home but too tired to cross the store threshold. At the end of their shifts shop workers transform back from monotoned automatons, palling around, gossiping, as if transformed by high moonlight into were-humans. Without the stresses of daytime crowds all clawing for the same eggnog and pumpkin pie mix my wife took this opportunity to practise her till-side smalltalk while I milled around, awkward as always.
On each visit we picked up what we hoped were the last few ingredients needed for our Thanksgiving feast. We missed a few things, that my sister-in-law then complained about having to fetch, but considering her other grand contribution to Thanksgiving were lumpen mashed potatoes, forgive me for not exactly feeling sympathetic towards her and her three trips to the supermarket–one of which was necessitated after she picked up a can of pumpkin pie filling rather than pureed pumpkin because she couldn’t be bothered to read the label.
The other adults in the house were a hive of holiday industry, all preparing his or her own specialities for that evening’s meal. The turkey was in my hands; I’d already prepared a brine of orange peel, maple syrup, honey and myriad assorted spice. All that remained was to hoist the sucker into the oven and baste it with maple butter for its four-hour cooking time. I’d started the day by cleaning the mess the children and their equally untidy mother had left the previous day (the same way I begin most days, now I come to think of it) and spent the morning and afternoon keeping the ever-mounting piles of dishes in check, rinsing spoons as needed, placing particular dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and so on, as well as working on a lemon meringue which ended up a sloppy–if delicious–disaster. With the turkey hogging the oven the pies–had to be shipped to my mother-in-law’s boyfriend’s house to be baked. When it came to cooking the lemon meringue Lindsay had the idea to bake it in the toaster oven, a device whose purpose I’m not really sure of. As well as being used for the odd slice of toast it has hidden depths; the pie emerged gold and crisp, though it sagged increasingly throughout the rest of the day.
As the pie sagged, so any festive energies I might have built up beforehand were sapped. I didn’t get the opportunity to drink something until midday, nor eat until mid-afternoon. “We don’t really have lunch,” Lindsay had told me some days before. “We cook appetizers and just pick at them.” But I was so busy I couldn’t even do that–not that prunes stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon appealed to me, fussy eater that I am. When she forced me to eat cold canned chili and congealed cream cheese–what had once been hot dip and was now thoroughly clotted and strange–I ate it gratefully, with gusto.
In early afternoon the children–who’d been at their father’s eating pizza and Burger King (“Daddy doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving”–nor Christmas, nor, indeed, being a father) came back and were all underfoot immediately, swinging from the refrigerator doors, clinging to legs, peering into pans of boiling whatever and all-but up-ending the cooking food all over themselves. As counter tops became crowded and tureens of food were moved into the dining area, so the children had to be constantly warned and shooed away from them; still they edged ever closer to the mounding plates and pies, fingers like pincers grabbing for gooey goodness.
Lindsay ended up carrying the brunt of the final preparations as neither of her sisters could be bothered to make the vegetables requested by our dinner guests. This last burst of energy drained her: listless, she later retired to bed early, missing out on the pies she’d spent so much time buying for and baking.
The day was kind of terrible. I already felt far from home and alone and working so hard to so little thanks–my mother-in-law and myself were the only ones from the group who tidied and cleaned after everyone was fat and full–meant I was emotionally as well as physically wiped by the day’s end. I’d been asked if there were any dishes I wanted to make that would make me feel more at home but this is America, and the ingredients on the shelves are not the same as those from my homeland. I couldn’t find chipolata sausages, only miniature wieners, which were hardly a substitute for the sausage and bacon rolls of my family’s traditional feasting. Likewise, if I’d made the mushroom stuffing and bread sauce we customarily have at Christmas I’d have been the only one eating eating them at the table, which would have made my day feel even more lonesome than it already did.
I guess that’s part of why I feel so miserable here around Christmas and–as it transpires–around Thanksgiving. These occasions are all about family. People travel across the country, from any and all states to be around their parents’ dinner table eating dishes they’ve eaten since time immemorial. There’s a whole subculture here of recipes every knows and loves, that originate on the backs of cans and packets, that are traditionally eaten every year in a holiday everyone else sneers down upon.
That’s Thanksgiving’s redeeming factor. No matter what you think of the holiday you can’t begrudge a family wanting to spend time together. When we were all sat around the table exhaustion melted, leaving only a tidemark of where it had been. The food was very good, the turkey had come out of the oven a little prematurely but was otherwise moist, delicious and acclaimed by everyone (and so far no-one’s’s succumbed to food poisoning, so I’ll consider it a success). Everyone was smiling and even if they didn’t say as much, being so thoroughly fed-up of ritual after years of Thanksgiving celebration, they were all thankful to be eating with their loved ones. It made me smile to have my oldest niece–whose usually an irrepressible hell raiser–demanding everyone be seated for the family’s meal.
Though I was as baffled by self-service plate rotation as primitive man was by the whirling of the heavens, once sat and off my feet I enjoyed my first thanksgiving. There was a lot to complain about–much of which I’ve written about in this and my previous post–but the thankfulness supersedes that. It would be curmudgeonly to steadfastly refuse to be thankful because the people, the nation, the continent–indeed the whole world–is out of order. There’s an awful lot to be unhappy about, but there’s a lot to be thankful for, too.
I think some people choose to ignore that.
Myself, I’m thankful my mother-in-law chose to allow me into her home, not for a fleeting visit but to stay for as long as it takes for my wife and I to get onto our feet. I’m thankful for the people who’ve supported me and carried me this far in life, and for the one woman to whom I’m married, who will support me–if not carry me–for the rest of our time together.
I have a lot to be thankful for. I don’t think it’s so bad to have a day that celebrates that, on which we can say ‘thank you’ and mean it. Whatever complaints you might have about America and/or their holidays, I don’t believe you think that’s so bad, either.
Christmas, Easter–holidays. While everyone else had dreaded these days, they’ve always been relaxing for me, a time to unwind, take a load off and eat far too much. Now I’m beginning to see just what everyone else finds so dreadful about the holidays, but do you know what?
It’s worth it, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.