Thanksgiving Misgivings


Thanksgiving should always be wonderful. What could be better than a day that is celebrated by the consumption of roast turkey? The orange and yellow leaves of autumn have turned crunchy brown, the remnants of a fiery blaze. The sky is a heavy gray, the air frosty.  The biggest turkey I could find at the supermarket (somewhere around 22 pounds) is softly sizzling away in the roasting pan, filling the house with memories carried on the scent.

But then there’s the other side of Thanksgiving. The part that involves family. The feuds. The divorces. The questions of allegiance. Which parent to spend the day with? Whose turn is it to eat at Dad’s house with his second wife? Which siblings are no longer on speaking terms? Is it safe to serve alcohol to that cousin?

I hate that part.

When I was a kid, we ate most of our Thanksgiving dinners in our tiny apartment. My mother, by her own admission, hated to cook, so my grandmother would come over early in the morning to stuff the turkey and put it in the oven. With a tiny kitchen and no dining room, dinner was eaten in the living room. Just imagine six kids and four or five adults squeezed together around a long folding table in an 8 x 10 foot room. Our coffee table served as a bench and could easily seat five small children. If you got stuck sitting on the couch, you had to reach up to get the food off your plate. After dinner, we sat in the dark watching home movies. Sounds just like the Waltons, right?

Of course, there was the time my mother, as a young bride, forgot to clean out the turkey before putting it in the oven. Or the time my grandfather, as the legend goes, got tired of asking for a dish to be passed and upended the entire table. The first time I prepared a turkey as a young wife, we were stationed in Germany. We lived out in the countryside, renting the top floor of a private home. The stove was electric. Thanksgiving not being a holiday in Germany, the landlord had an electrician in that day to repair some wiring downstairs. This required him to cut the electricity to one side of my kitchen. I was not told about this. I don’t know how long my turkey was in the oven before I realized there was no power going to the stove. Nothing like trying to guess when your turkey is done when you’ve never prepared one before. Truth be told, it could have been cooked a little longer. I remember one year being terribly sick on Thanksgiving. I forced myself to eat (we only ate like that once a year, after all) and later puked my guts up while watching Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on TV. The Gene Wilder version, not the Johnny Depp version. The Depp version would make anyone retch.

In spite of it all, I still look forward to Thanksgiving. Times are especially rough this year, but I have a roof over my head that doesn’t leak and we’re all in relatively good health. The things that are wrong will get better.

And boy, can I make delicious turkey gravy.