Thanksgiving

Would it be too corny to say that I give thanks for Thanksgiving? Probably.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s an American holiday and that’s cool. We live in the land of plenty and we know it. It’s also a capitalist holiday (or at the very least, it’s a celebration of the end of collectivist deprivation). Thanksgiving is secular too. Which means there’s no midnight mass, no morning mass, no afternoon mass, and no threat of a mass at any other time.

Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas Season. I know that the malls and department stores have been in full Christmas swing since September, but Thanksgiving is when you can finally pull out your favorite Christmas CD without worrying about violent reprisal. And even though it’s the start of the Christmas Season, it has none of the pressure of Christmas; there are no presents to buy, there’s nothing to wrap, and the afternoon isn’t quite so boring. (One of my favorite lyrics of all time is, “And every day’s like Christmas Day without you. It’s cold and there’s nothing to do .”)

Plus, there’s lot’s and lot’s of really good food. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you can feed the square of the number of people at your table. And really, what’s better than sharing a meal with the people you love?

Thanksgiving has always been good to me. There have been few family fights and lots of good eats. Even when I was away at school or young and on my own, my friends and I would gather and we’d feast on what we could. We’d have Thanksgivings filled with dishes I’d learned growing up with my mother in New Orleans: shrimp Creole, crawfish etoufee, gumbo, and jambalya. The Thanksgiving meal is traditional for a reason; the ritualized menu reminds us of home and helps us remember. Even when I was thousands of miles from home, making a big pot of jambalya or etoufee helped bring a part of my family’s Thanksgiving to my table.

But it’s not always Creole and Cajun. I’ve made vegan mushroom paté, dozens of pecan pies, Thai spring rolls, and once I even made a lavish tortellini pie. It had meatballs, cheese, tortellini, a wonderful ragu bolognese, and a sweet custard. It turned out great and I loved it. Everyone else smiled and swallowed, but no one was as taken by it as I was. That was Thanksgiving in the Brown House in Portland. We called it the brown house because every ceiling, wall, and rail was brown wood. the floors were brown carpet. It was perpetually dark. You needed a flashlight to read in the living room. But it had a great stove.

We had a lot to drink at those Thanksgivings in Portland. They’re my “lost” Thanksgivings–holidays where we’d eat 12 pounds of turkey and drink 20 pounds of Beaujolais Nouveau. But they were all good days. I think. My memories are a bit hazy. We have photos, and everyone’s smiling, but you can’t tell what we ate for all the bottles on the table. One year we rented out the rec room in a friend’s apartment complex. Eric made six gallons of gumbo, and I made sweet-potato dim sum. We also had turkey, potatoes, cranberries and two cases of wine. There were 8 adults.

But I’m older and wiser and considerably more moderate now. I’ll be spending this thanksgiving with my wife’s family. There will be more than 20 of us. The chairs will be mismatched, the tables will be borrowed and crammed onto porches, and there will be games of touch football in the backyard. With any luck there will be a platter or two of deviled eggs. Of course, I’ll only have one or two. Now I drink less wine and worry more about cholesterol. But the dinner will be grand and the company will be better.

It will be my third Thanksgiving with Jamie’s family, and just my second with our kids. I know how much fun I’ll have, but I’ll still miss all of my family and friends that won’t be joining us. I’ll give my thanks and I’ll think aboutholidays gone by.

I remember the year of the bunnies.

My father lives in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. The house is halfway up a mountain with state forest on two sides and very distant neighbors on the others. It’s remote and beautiful and very pet friendly. The fish stay indoors, but the scores of cats and dogs are free to come and go as they please. My favorite dog of all time, Tucker, lived in that house for many years. Tucker was a mutt. He must have been mostly Collie and German Shepherd because he was full-sized, Shepherd colored, and had some Collie in his face. There must also have been a gutsy Dachshund somewhere back down the line, because his legs were only three inches long. He ran like an inchworm and he couldn’t jump into a truck without help, but he was as smart and loyal and loving as any dog ever was.

One year, now several years ago, my father had rabbits. I don’t remember how or why they came to live at the house, but they were there at Thanksgiving. As was I. It was a year I had made it home to family. Tucker had died years prior, and had been replaced by Todd and Chewbaca. Chewy is long gone, but Todd is still alive. Old and fat, he looks like a giant sausage that’s been stuffed into a dog costume.

My father had built pens in the garden by the house, and the bunnies lived very happily. They were, as bunnies must be, segregated by sex and so I presume they weren’t living as happily as they might have wished, but they seemed comfortable. And cute. And large and fat. They weren’t food bunnies; they were pet bunnies. And they were much loved by my little sister and brother.

On that Thanksgiving we had a traditional New Mexican spread: yams, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, and green chile galore. And of course, we had a beautiful turkey. But as Ralphie Parker can well attest, all dogs — including the Bumpuses’ hounds — love turkey. So the dogs had been banished outside as the turkey was cooked, prepared, cooled and sliced.

We all sat down, and had just packed our plates… I’m sure I was just beginning to pour some gravy over my mounded pile of turkey goodness. My father had probably just finished singing along with the full version of Alice’s Restaurant; our meal had barely begun. We heard the mewling cries, and we wondered what they were. Then we heard the shrieks and we knew. Todd and Chewy were having a feast of their own. Apparently driven mad by turkey lust, they had finally found their way into the rabbit pen.

That Thanksgiving went to the dogs. But that’s as bad a Thanksgiving as I’ve ever had.

And I guess that’s my point. Thanksgiving is great because it’s simple. Get together. Eat. Laugh. Nap.

A bad Thanksgiving is spent alone in a box under an overpass. And thankfully, I’ve never been there. I have been blessed with such wonderful friends and such a wonderful family, my life is filled with joy and laughter and love. And that’s what I’m thankful for on the last Thursday in November and on every other day too.

Although I can’t sit down with everyone I love this Thursday, I’ll think of all of you as I say my thanks and pour my gravy.

Thanks to all of you for filling my life with wonder and joy.
May your Thanksgiving tables always be too crowded and your chairs mismatched.
May your turkey be large and brown with crispy skin and may your gravy be smooth and rich.
And may you always have one non-traditional dish–whether it’s a vegan tofu stew or a selection of fresh sushi.
May you drink and eat your fill, and may you nap peacefully after dinner.
May you play touch football in the fallen leaves and finally put on that Christmas music.
May you remember to tell everyone how much you love them.
May you always keep those you love close to your heart, no matter how far away they might live.

And may you keep your bunnies safe and warm.

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