Thanksgiving. A feast of emotional angst baked in a pie. A 20lb anchor of stuffed fowl that keeps our families from drifting apart.
There are secret ingredients in that turkey dinner. Spicy, embarrassing moments. Bland, tired storied. Subtle hints of bitterness.
And just a pinch of love—to make it all palatable.
Don’t feel guilty if you are dreading Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to admit that their Norman Rockwell get-together is more like dinner with “Psycho” ‘s Norman Bates and his mother.
Sure. There are families who have “Hallmark Hall of Fame” Thanksgivings. Love abounds. Pies never burn; emotions are as evenly spread as marmalade, and the day is gravy-smooth. But more often, it is only good food and guilt that convince us to spend hours and hours listening to stale jokes and rewoven yarns of days we’d rather forget.
It’s not that we don’t love our families. Our parents, brothers, sisters. The uncle we only see on Thanksgiving. Grandma, with the inevitable blotch of unidentifiable food that decorates the bosom of her holiday dress like a merit badge of having eaten.
We cuddle babies, hug siblings, and smile warmly at freshly washed, neatly dressed children as they run screaming around the kitchen. In the background, the TV blares, airing a brutal, violent game whose fans cheer with Coliseum fervor.
It is somehow cathartic, all that yelling and screaming. We smile at our loved ones and wait for the feast.
The timer on the turkey hasn’t popped up. Everything else needs to be reheated. The glasses need ice. How many places do we need? Lawn chairs and high chairs and booster seats circle the table, providing added seating and assuring clunked elbows.
Women bustle about the kitchen in radar-precise grid patterns, stirring this dish and moving that plate over to make room for more. The air is fragrant with the aroma of sage and onions.
Then. Finally. It’s ready. We lumber toward the table, discussing our hunger levels and mumbling compliments to the chefs.
The food is the same every year: Aunt Mable’s cranberry relish, Grandma’s burnt, (I mean, browned) yeast rolls. And Mom’s famous stuffing (affectionately called “Play-Doh on a spoon”, but Oh So Good).
Fork-wielding children are wedged between reluctant adults. Shiny, salivating faces surround a meal that is as predictable and comforting as a Jimmy Stewart holiday movie.
And then, Grandpa reminds everyone of his problem with corn and the eventual gastric emergency that will follow. A little “David” slingshots mashed potatoes across the table and emits a Goliath giggle.
Your sister-in-law asks if you’re working anywhere or if you’re still “just a mom”.
Who wouldn’t squirm against the crushing weight of all this togetherness?
But Thanksgiving dinner, with all its chaos and complexity, helps us realize that the tattoos of those smothering hugs and less-than-tactful moments are what make us who we are. Good or bad, we’re tethered to this group of people with frayed emotional ties and knots of memories that hold us all together.
So, once a year, we dress up to eat turkey with the people who know us best. Who remember every stumble we’ve ever made and every dream we didn’t realize. Who were there, throughout our lives, to share our joys and console us in our disappointments.
It is this mixture of ingredients that make the best meal, even if it IS served up with teasing stories about that crush you had on your science teacher, and tactless barbs of criticism at your selection of mate/career/lifestyle/hair color/clothing.
That’s the price we pay for the feast of conflicting emotions that fill our hearts at Thanksgiving each year.
God bless us, every one. And no, Uncle Billy, I haven’t gained weight since last Thanksgiving.