Sunday, November 27, 2011

Everything I Needed to Know About Thanksgiving I Learned From My Mom...and My Friends

When I was a little girl, Thanksgiving was a BIG DEAL.

My mother's wedding china and my grandmother's sterling silver would come out of hibernation, the table would be set with Mom's best table linens and napkin rings. There would be flowers and candles. The food, all of it, except the tomato aspic salad (because bleah *shudder*) glorious.

Thanksgiving was a family affair. I don't remember a Thanksgiving orphan mixing among the six of us. It was a special day and a holiday of which I have no memory of it being marred by thrown food or tantrums, no outbursts or meltdowns. This is a very rare thing.

Back then, three days of preparation were required and the delicious scents wafting out from the kitchen were enough to turn all of us into a ravenous, drooling, mass of salivary anticipation. Thanksgiving was the epitome of elegance and abundance. Beautifully executed by the laborious efforts of a woman who wanted every moment to be special...right down to the crystal water goblets and the wine.

Of course, by the end of it, Blind Betsy would collapse into an exhausted heap but not until after the last delicate plate was washed and every last piece of silver placed back in its velvet-lined box until next year.

Thanksgiving would change after I was about 8 or so. One by one, my siblings and, finally, my father would leave for greener pastures and Blind Betsy and I were left to our own turkey day devices. In the last 32 years, I believe my entire family has spent the holiday all together maybe 4 times. She and I tried out several different methods of celebration then - dining out or cooking for 2 or 3.

For many years, I tried to hold on to the lesson Blind Betsy inadvertently taught me - that Thanksgiving was all about family. I pushed for family Thanksgiving holidays each year, attempting to (unsuccessfully) coordinate and corral my siblings into the same place so that perhaps we could recapture the magic of those early that I could feel as though I were a part of a normal family. Just for a little while. After too many attempts ending in my own hurt feelings, I stopped trying. I came to realize that, as much as I loved the whitewashed memory of family Thanksgiving, in reality, we are a family who are much better off loving each other from a far greater distance than, say, across a dining room table.

Eventually, Thanksgiving would become hit or miss. I might celebrate. I might not. I might see a family member or three. I might not. Meh. Whatever. Until...


Lex and I had just moved into the Grotto. For the first time, for both of us, we had our own home, our own newly adopted fur kid, and our own orphaned-by-choice group of friends.

And I, in my Infinite Wisdom, decided I was going to host my very first Thanksgiving meal for us and a couple of brave, polite, lovable friends. Never mind that I'd never cooked a turkey or planned a meal that large in scale ever.

I went whole hog crazy. By gawd I was going to do what my mother had done and I was going to do it just as well and it was going to be special and elegant and and and THANKSGIVING to beat all THANKSGIVINGS!

HOORAY! Hee hee.

It was a disaster.

Lacking a table, china, sterling silver flatware, and crystal goblets, I made do with what I trays and Every Day plates. Lacking enough pots and pans to cook everything that needed cooking, I utilized crock pots (for mashed potatoes...mistake). Lacking counter space, I had pies and relish trays and serving platters laid out on the couch and tables in the living room and foyer.

The turkey was dry, the potatoes hard and lumpy, the green beans and walnuts well...the walnuts were burned and the green beans ice cold. *sigh*

Lest we forget, we also had a brand new kitty who, desperately ill with post-surgical nausea and kennel cough, could only find comfort snuggled against my neck while I laid as still as possible on the couch and just let him drool and sneeze and cough all over me. Sick kitties (like children) are not conducive to productivity in the kitchen pretty much ever.

But! The stuffing was delicious and my pies were heavenly. The wine flowed copiously and there was an excess of laughter and good sportsmanship.

So much so that, in 2009, I decided I'd do it all again.

Except for one thing.

After the disaster in culinary creation that was Thanksgiving 2008, I called Blind Betsy lamenting about my failures. And the Infinitely Wise Momma said this, "Lamb1? You don't have to do it all by yourself! People love to contribute in situations like these. Let them! It's perfectly acceptable not to work yourself to the bone for a mediocre meal when you can give your friends the chance to really shine!"

Who was this woman and what had she done with my mother? Blind Betsy, Thanksgiving whirling dervish, Queen of Fancy Pants Holiday Suppers, was suggesting I make Thanksgiving a...a...a...potluck?!

Turns out, yeah. That's precisely what she was suggesting. Turns out, Blind Betsy, once her own children were grown and gone, had begun spending her holidays with her own "orphaned" friends in Thanksgiving potluck heaven whereby every one of the guests was asked to contribute and shine.

So, for the last three years then, I've thrown open the doors of the Grotto and heartily welcomed holiday potluck love in and each one has been a glowing success. The last two years, we've been packed in like sardines in oil - I've discovered the Grotto can only possibly hold 12 somewhat (un)comfortably. The core guest list doesn't vary...Owen, Devo Was Right, Bomb Betsy, Logan, Sufi Mag-to-the-pie (PIE!), the belfry bats. The other guests seem to rotate each year depending on schedules and travel plans.

This year's feast was, far and away, the most sparkling of all shiny shines my friends could rustle up.

No seriously! I cannot tell you just how fabulous each and every contribution was (that includes the Alton Brown green bean casserole, Ms. C! You did one hell of an amazing job! Pinky swear).

But the food was outshone by the Guest Stars of the evening...friendship, cobbled together family, love, laughter, respect, and admiration.

It was perfect.

Here's the proof (photos most humbly offered by resident blog photographer, Acr0nym):

Bomb Betsy, Sufi Mag-to-the-pie (PIE!), Devo Was Right - my preciousssss

Owen, Ms. C, Sufi, and Devo Was Right playing with my heat-resistant-up-to-475º cock (it's a rooster hot pad)

Logan love bombs Sufi while Devo Was Right tries to focus in on his mashed taters

The shining groans with delicious noms as Owen and modchen can attest

Ms. C and Bomb Betsy molesting Acr0nym's European style butter

Owen and Ms. C imbibing on wine and laughter

modchen and #himself engrossed in conversation

Logan keeping it classy once the Apples to Apples gauntlet was thrown down

Ms. C showing the Pie and fresh whipped cream the reverence it deserves

Bomb Betsy in full on food and friendship coma bliss
These are just a little taste of the photographs Acr0nym took of that perfect night. He took, in all, 152 photographs of the food, friends, and fun. I couldn't post them all here as much as I'd love to.

But you get the point. We had a fantastic time.

This is, in large part, thanks to my mom. Blind Betsy, in her infinite wisdom, taught me that yes, Thanksgiving is about family. Sometimes that family is chosen and sometimes that's the best kind. She also taught me that Thanksgiving isn't necessarily about fine china, crystal, and flowers. It's about love, camaraderie, and fun.

Not a single soul cared that we were eating off paper plates or drinking out of plastic cups. Not one person moaned or groaned that we weren't seated at a table with fancy accoutrement.

Each and every one of my guests were just heart glad that we were together, once again, to partake of the noms and to complement one friends tend to do.

And, once again, I'm struck about how Thanksgiving - with or without blood relatives and fancy plates? IS a BIG DEAL. Because Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what we have. What I have, as a 40-year-old single woman living in the city, is friends...and lots of them. Friends who love me and each other. Friends who love food. Friends who want to share their culinary talents with each other and with me.

Thank you.

Note: I need to take a moment to give a special thanks and shout out to a few people.

1) Evelyn, thank you for the loan of your boy, Acr0nym, this year. His mere presence, his set up assistance, and his talent as photographer were most appreciated. He had a difficult time asking to spend the holiday away from you and from his family in general. Thank you for your gracious permission to let him come to my house without much comment when his family - so close by - was missing him.

2) TC? Ditto.

3) To my own brother, Franny, and his family. I know you had high expectations for a family holiday this year - your first in this area - but thank you for your (I hope) understanding that, over the last 2 decades, I've established my own traditions and gathered about me my own loved ones who want to spend the holidays with me and I with them.

4) And finally, to Blind Betsy. Mommy? I love you. You've taught me a number of to be gracious, accommodating, loving. You've taught me that, when family doesn't come first - especially when it's outside my own control - that I can make my own family out of extraordinary people...people who don't care about china or how well I can cook and who, instead, just care about me.

Thank you.

1: Yes, my mother calls each of us lamb or lamby. And no, you are not allowed to go there. Not even a little bit. Not even to see what it feels like. Because that kick to your shin region will not feel good.


Gaelyn said...

Thanksgiving is about family, chosen or blood. Blind Betsy sets a wonderful example of the choice to change. You are fortunate to have such a family.

Beautifully written piece, obviously from the heart.

alienbody said...

What mom doesn't have a nick-name for their spawn? My mom used to call me pumpkin seed or twinkle toes - and we will not be going there either. I call my son NickyBoo (his *almost* 16 year old self cringes, so it shall stick with him forever) and ShaKayKay is what I call my daughter. I embarrass her in so many other ways that she doesn't even mind the nick-name. Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving story, sounds like you had a lovely, thanks-filled day.

Lucy said...

I love this story and it has made my day, you can't even imagine!

Lora said...

I love this. I love your Thanksgiving and it is exactly what I want my Thanksgivings to be like.

This year we ditched the less-than-ideal Thanksgiving and went to Vegas. It was fun, but I missed the dinner. The dinner that I heard wasn't all that great anyway.

I need to come up with something like this to make me a little more thankful on Thanksgiving.

Ernie Hendrix said...

What a valuable lesson your mother taught you - family doesn't have to relate to blood kin. You have a wonderful family around you and you are blessed in many, many ways.