Before we begin, know that every keystroke hurts.
Of course, Thanksgiving itself can often be painful. Emotionally, psychologically, cognitively dissonant-ly, gut-rupturing-ly, and in certain circumstances, physically. As a child, all holiday meals were at my house, and before my mother learned I could cook, all holidays were like having a live panther in the house. Get close to it and you’re taking your life in your own hands. Come into the kitchen with anything short of, “It smells wonderful; can I wash all the dishes in perpetuity, and also you are breathtaking, and look at least 10 years younger than whatever your current age is, and also, may I play this harp solo for you?” and you risked an emotional meltdown that would beat Susan Lucci for a Daytime Emmy and Meredith Baxter Birney for whatever award Lifetime movies get for behaving like a sentient case of postpartum depression. The Postparties? The Tony’s (but Tony is Tony Montana after a mound of coke and a good cry)? The Hystericoscars?
She would start cooking at least one day in advance, and clean the house like she was prepping for surgery. We would have 20 some odd relatives and/or assorted weirdos in the house, and enough food for all of them to die like Gluttony in Se7en many times over. Though the house would smell amazing for days, the tiny old lady from Poltergeist would have to come immediately afterwards to clear out the evil.
It wasn’t just holidays, mind you. My mother would cut a bitch whilst needlepointing “Bless This Mess.” Kim Jong Un had nothing on my mom trying to sew her own curtains. If you saw a stencil out, run.
All this to say my mother expected perfection from the holidays, and every one of them found a way to kill her just a little. My grandfather would mound everything on his plate into a graying pile of mush, smile, and loudly announce, “It’s all going to the same place, anyway!” Her sister would, after demanding a non-seasoned or spiced portion of everything be made special for her—she had a new invented allergy every year, and once faked convulsions when she tasted garlic in her mashed potatoes—would complain that her meal had no flavor. The same sister’s entire family would show up 3 hours late, and would have brought the salad. My dad and I would legitimately try our best to make everything perfect, but would get so nervous, we’d shake, and catch our fingers in the leaves of the dining room table whilst extending it from 8 seats to eleventy billion. My cousin would attempt to smoke in the house, and act shocked when people took umbrage. My brother would eat all the whipped cream while my mother wasn’t looking. My Uncle would make casual racist jokes to his black son-in-law. My cousin would lick the mashed potatoes so no one else could have any. Worst of all, those who volunteered to bring the wine would bring Rosé.
Heartburn swill in a glass.
Of course, there were great things about Thanksgiving at the VU ‘04 house. My dad would play “Alice’s Restaurant” in its entirety each Thanksgiving morning, and we would all laugh when Arlo Guthrie described being placed in a jail cell for littering as such:
There was all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly-lookin’ people on the bench there. There was mother-rapers father-stabbers father-rapers! Father-rapers sittin’ right there on the bench next to me! And they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible and crime fightin’ guys were sittin’ there on the bench, and the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one the meanest Father-raper of them all was comin’ over to me, and he was mean and ugly and nasty and horrible and all kinds of things, and he sat down next to me. He said, “Kid, what’d you get?”
I said, “I didn’t get nothin’. I had to pay fifty dollars and pick up the garbage.”
He said, “What were you arrested for, kid?” and I said, “litterin’”
And they all moved away from me on the bench there...
There were half-drunk glasses of beer, wine, liqueurs, scotch, and bourbon galore for me and little VU ’04 to pilfer when they weren’t looking.
There was football. There was pie. There was football whilst eating pie. There were frightening bets placed on basement pool games—the result of which would cast brother against brother for decades afterwards.
Of course, such things cannot last outside of a Norman Rockwell painting (if such a painting focused on post-modern realism rather than the myth of the 1950s American family), and time, of course, ends all things.
As such, as relatives dropped one by one, and others (me, included) moved to all parts of the country, Thanksgiving is not the same. My brother lives in the Carolinas; I, smack dab in the middle of flyover country.
We lost my dad last year. Well, we didn’t lose him. We know where he is, but, of course, is is not exactly the correct verb tense any more.
This year, my mom flew out to the American Prairie, as did the Ladyfriend’s folks. Further, we managed to cobble together an extended family out of my friend and his parents, who had driven in from Midwest Town.
I promised the mom she would not have to do anything but eat. I was to make the turkey, gravy, stuffing, and corn-sesame sauté. The Ladyfriend and folks were to make their plethora of sides and desserts—South Cackalacky-an casseroles, rutabaga, and pecan pie. The Friend and his folks were to make the cheese plate, apps, mashed potatoes, and the remainder of various pies and cakes. All would bring the best beer and wine they had.
8:30am came, and I had brushed the turkey with butter, seasoned and spiced it, and put it in the 325 degree oven. I had sliced the peppers, celery, onions, and shaved the carrots. I then proceeded to slice the wheat, white, and pumpernickel bread for stuffing.
Here’s where we get back to the beginning. I had my bread knife professionally sharpened earlier this month. On my first pass through the bread, I, apparently, decided I wanted a little more flavor in the stuffing.
It didn’t quite register at first. Of course, once I saw the blood stipple up, and then spurt out with the rhythm of my heart beat, I got the sense something not quite right had happened.
There was no pain right away. That would come soon, no doubt. What happened right away was more of a quizzical confused pondering. Then my lips went a shade of white none associate with the living. Then the sweat broke.
Long story short, my mother ended up having to cook Thanksgiving yet again, and I currently have nine working digits, which, all told, is better than none.
Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. All is reattached and in good working order.
In other words, you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant...