Each Thanksgiving we go to my Mother in law's in New Jersey and my son delights in having two whole days to run around with his cousins. Geography separates us, so Thanksgiving is the only time we are all together at one time. The kids absolutely love it. I'm always pretty amazed when I watch them--varying in ages from 4 years to 15 they all get along and they always stick together. No-one gets left out, everyone has fun. You would never know that these kids see each other once a year or so--they seem so tight and connected.
When I was a girl my parents were divorced and we always went with my Father for Thanksgiving, which meant that we went to my Grandparent's apartment in Brooklyn. We lined the card tables up through the small living room, ate the absolute creamiest mashed potatoes, and turnips were shared by just Grandpa and me. Afterwards, I endured enough football to last me to next Thanksgiving. Honestly? I never really enjoyed myself. My cousins were pretty distant (despite the close quarters in the small apartment) and there was lots of sitting around.
After I was married my husband and I would try and take turns on whose house we'd go to for the holidays. We don't have the luxury of dinner at one house and dessert at the next as so many of my friends seem to be able to do. Once my son Luc came along we decided to just stick with my Mother in Law's house because of the cousins. Oh sure, I do miss my Mother's amazing cooking, but the trip is shorter by about 6 hours and the kids have a great time. If I bring enough wine for myself--I have a good time too.
Each year I see the commercials showing beautiful families dressed up, girls in dresses, boys in ties, and the table set with linen and candles. Does anyone experience a holiday dinner like this? Our dinners go something like this; the turkey's done but nothing else is. We finally get the potatoes and vegetables on the table but no one knows where the carving knife is. My job has been to make the turkey gravy for the last 5 years. I had offered to bring something (a pie, salad, etc) and my Mother in Law said, "how about you make the gravy." Humph! (I'm really a fair cook.. I'm not sure why she didn't want me to bring anything).
Anyway, there's NEVER a fat separator, which means there's tons of fat on top of the gravy. By the time we're all seated, one of the children has knocked over their plastic wine glass full of fruit punch and it's soaking through the paper tablecloth towards the rest of us. We get that mopped up and at about that time the smoke alarm goes off because someone's forgotten the Pillsbury crescent rolls in the oven. Inevitably someone will ask if we should "wash" the plastic cutlery. It's a memorable meal but not in the Hallmark sense.
This year is just like all the rest--I'll angst about the weekend before it's here, clench my teeth a lot during the day, and find that I have to "check on the kids" and hang out with them to avoid the myriad of topics being discussed that I have no interst in. If I'm slick and sneak a book in my sweater I can get a little reading in too.
On the ride home from New Jersey, I'll breath a little easier as we cross the Verranzano Narrows Bridge (or as I like to call it, the "moat") my son will have fond childhood holiday memories for himself, and half the things that annoyed me will be a faint memory. At least there will be turnips.
2003, Claudine M. Jalajas