Tomorrow in the United States is Thanksgiving.
The earliest Thanksgiving I really remember clearly was when I was in 6th grade and we moved into a new home on Thanksgiving day. With boxes all around we sat and ate hotdogs in the middle of our new dining room. The novelty of it was fun and memorable and as a child I thought we were being rather naughty “breaking the rules.” Hot dogs? Not turkey? We were rebels.
After that Thanksgiving was always at our house because my mom loved Thanksgiving. She loved all of it- the cooking and preparing for everyone to come over. Sometimes taking days to line up the silverware and dishes and plan out the menu and decorate the table. When I was young I didn’t appreciate how much work it was to put on a feast like that. Especially when relatives just showed up and expected to be fed and not help with much of anything. I just knew she hardly ever sat down all day and the dishes were sky-high by the time everyone left.
The first turkey I made for family was after I was first married. I remember taking pictures of the turkey shrapnel. Proud to be a domestic goddess (at least for one day. I am not known for my cooking). But I learned. Afterward I had many big holiday dinners for Easter and Christmas and New Years and Valentines Day. But never Thanksgiving. That was my mom’s day. I learned to cook and entertain for clients, customers and for company parties. I learned to throw together at the last minute parties for 50 people or more. I did it for years. I spent days running and shopping and prepping and literally days cleaning up from dishes that were sky-high. (all the while counting down to when I could paint again.) I never loved all the fuss like my mom did and I never measured up to the “British Martha Stewart” that was my mother-in-law but I could hold my own.
After cancer took my mom, Thanksgiving was never the same again. Before that next Thanksgiving my sister and I looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”
“Lets have it at my place” she said. “But I don’t know how to cook a turkey.” She is an accountant. Enough said.
“Never cooked a turkey? How old are you?” my dad giggled. “Forty-One? and never cooked a turkey? My my.”
“Well Dad…”, I said, “How many turkeys have you cooked?” He was silent after that.
“I’ll come over early and teach you how to cook a turkey.” I said to my sister. “We’ll get two of them. One for me and one for you and enough for everyone. The lessons will begin at 8 am and that is also when we will start drinking.”
So that is what we did. And as we cooked and prepped the turkeys the wine flowed along with our tears. We slapped butter on the turkeys so hard they looked like misshapen and deflated albino soccer balls. Cavities were stuffed, the oven became stained, the kitchen floor was a swamp of a mess and yet we didn’t care. Potatoes were whipped over-enthusiastically while young children ran into the kitchen and then quickly back ran back out again yelling “Mom’s drunk!”
It was the most memorable turkey holiday ever since hot dogs on paper plates while sitting on the carpet. I don’t think I have laughed that hard in a long time. We coped. We laughed. We toasted my mom. Over and over.
After that we got involved with a church and my kids spent quite a few years delivering holiday meals to shut-ins. People who just wanted to talk to someone more than anything else. The food sometimes was secondary. It was a way of giving and a way to remember to be thankful that we had family. That we had a way to cook it and money to buy it and people to share it with… because life can change blindingly fast. Along with holidays.
This Thanksgiving I will be back at my mom’s place. My dad wants one more turkey dinner in memory of my mom but this time I will be buying all the food and the fixings and bringing it over. My days of cooking and cleaning for days on end for holiday family dinners are over now that I am single. I don’t have a dining room anymore and I don’t want one ever again. Although I will always keep my mom’s turkey roasting pan. The coat of a domestic goddess was never a good fit on me although I tried to shove myself into it for many, many years. I just can’t do it anymore so I have hung it up. I’ll let someone else slap the turkeys around. Now I just want the laughter and the food without the stress.
And maybe more than enough wine.