Thanksgiving. It’ll be here in two days, you know. I wonder… Why do we Americans love it so much?
And it’s not just that we love it. We jump through amazingly difficult hoops to be a part of it. We travel from all corners of the earth to sit down at a single meal with those we care for most. My brother and his family traveled here all the way from England this year. I personally have made many long drives across state borders to take my seat at the annual family event.
For couples, the question of whom to grace with their presence is often a touchy rivalry. Who’s turn is it this year. Who will be offended by not going. Is it possible to hit both sets of in-laws. Would it be enticing, feasible, or even possible to take part in a major feast at multiple abodes…
|Thank you Walmart for not giving us the boot when we|
started stacking all of your frozen turkeys for this photo.
And oh that feast. For those involved in the shopping, preparing, and cooking, it’s generally a grueling process that begins a week or more before the big gathering.
Shopping before Thanksgiving is the equivalent of body boarding in 30 foots waves. You can’t really do anything except hold on for dear life and hope you don’t get crushed. The stores are jam-packed with husbands squinting at their wive’s shopping lists, and wives who have huffed their way back to fix their husbands’ shopping faux paus. What men don’t and will never understand is that the wrong cut of green beans or the wrong size turkey will ruin the entire meal.
And oh that turkey. That painful and agonizing process of roasting or frying the perfect bird. So much extra care and effort is put into making sure the skin is perfectly golden, the meat is perfectly tender, and the juice is perfectly preserved. Everybody knows that the turkey will make or break the meal. Every mom makes making that perfect bird a personal mission each year. Many a womanly tear have been shed over turkeys that came out just a little (or a lot) too dry.
But maybe we should look deeper. Jammed into the innards of the hopefully-not-too-dry bird is the stuffing, which comes in a thousand different varieties and recipes. Not one of which ever seems to please everybody in attendance, not to mention the fact that nobody seems to notice or care that it’s a “food” that has been slow-roasted in the scraped out body cavity of a dead animal.
Anyway… If it were just turkey or stuffing, preparing the meal really wouldn’t be that big a deal. But as part of our own masochistic appetites, we aren’t satisfied unless we can gormandize on heaping plate after plate of culinary option and delight. We want variety, and we want lots of it.
The real Thanksgiving mayhem naturally begins early Thanksgiving morning. The men usually tromp off to shoot skeet or play flag football while the women band together behind aprons and potato mashers. If you’re one of the unfortunate ones to get caught in their cross hairs, you’re bound to hear nonstop demands shouted your way.
YOU! Take these cranberries and mash them into something fantastic. YOU! Get going on this frog-eye salad. YOU! Whip this cream. YOU! Start wiping off the fine china. YOU! Start peeling these potatoes. YOU! Start mashing these potatoes. YOU! Stop mashing the potatoes before there’re no lumps left!
YOU! Set the table. YOU! Start folding the napkins all fancy. YOU! Work on the yams. YOU! Start mixing the dough for the pie crust. YOU! Arrange the rolls. YOU! Soften the butter. YOU! Make the gravy. YOU! Toss the salad. YOU! Bring in more chairs. YOU! Find something to do!
Yes, the kitchen is a very dangerous place to find yourself on Thanksgiving Day. Knives are flying, ovens are slamming, timers are ticking.
There aren’t enough ovens. Ever. There isn’t enough space in the fridge. Ever. Everything that’s supposed to remain hot starts getting cold, and everything that’s supposed to remain cold starts getting hot.
Many a husband’s hands are slapped away from the turkey during the final moments of preparation. If anybody touches that turkey skin, the mom boldly declares with butcher knife in hand, it’ll be the last thing they ever do.
A time is set for eating. That time always comes and goes. As does the hour after. And the hour after that. Two or three hours past the scheduled sit down time, the call is sounded for everybody to come pick a seat and park it.
With disheveled hair and sweat-dampened clothes, the women take their places among the men who were kind enough to pull their keesters away from the 60″ flat screen in the next room. During the first few minutes together, each husband gets an elbow or two in the ribs from their wives who felt that the men’s level of help was less than adequate. Somebody yells at the kids to be quiet. More smacks and whispers can be heard across the room as husbands and kids begin sneaking tastes of whatever dish sits in front of them.
Then the “head of the house” takes over. He welcomes everybody. He thanks the lady folk for their hard work. He says how thankful he is to have everybody there. He calls on someone to say grace, usually the grandpa who prays six times longer than anybody has patience for. When he finally finishes, a rowdy amen rumbles through the house, and…
Awesome happens. For the next hour, one of the most magical moments of the entire year happens. For the next hour, nobody remembers any of the crap going on in their lives. Nobody remembers the pain that they’re dealing with. Nobody remembers how much money they don’t have. Nobody remembers who didn’t just do something. Nobody seems to have a problem or a care in the world. For one hour, there is nothing but laughing and love.
Like the kind of love that movies make. And it’s wonderful. For an entire hour, life is only beautiful, for everyone sitting at the table that day.
People stuff themselves fuller than they have in the last 364 days. Glasses are clanked together, speeches are given, sentiments are shared. People begin sharing what they’re most thankful for in life. People begin asking forgiveness for wrongs they’ve committed. People begin being… people. Good, genuine, awesome people.
And when the men have all undone the waistlines on their pants to make room for pumpkin pie, and the women have all high-fived each other for putting on such an awesome spread, and the children have all run off to destroy the house… the most magical thing of all happens.
The women broaden their shoulders, stand up together, and with authority, they assign the men to clean-up duty. The men are given no other option. They try to retort, but no air can escape through their packed esophagi. They are taken down in a moment of weakness, and let’s be honest. They deserve it.
The women laugh and leave the men to hours of brutal and exhausting torture. It takes the guys far longer than it should because they won’t stop whipping each other with wet dish towels or complaining about how many dishes were dirtied in the making of the feast.
And then when they’re done, it’s over. It’s done. The kitchen is clean, the leftovers are stored, and everybody sits around the warmest room of the house telling stories and enjoying each other’s company.
At the end of the day, nobody wants to go. There was just something so special about it all. Maybe it was that for just one day, the family felt like a “normal” family. The laughs shared would certainly be remembered for years. The warmth and joy would armor those who shared it against whatever the world would soon throw their way. And it’s a good thing, too, because starting the next day, The real mayhem of the rest of the holidays begins.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
How does this compare to your family on Thanksgiving? What do you love most about Thanksgiving? What do you like least?