Celebrating those quiet, peaceful Thanksgivings
Just as I was searching for the ideal idea for this holiday peace, I picked up
The New York Times from last week and was immediately drawn to the headline -- "Duck! It's the Holidays ... When Families Come Together, Rudeness is Often Served With the Cranberries and Yams."
The reporter, Joyce Wadler, opened peacefully and then hit the reader squarely between the eyes with reality. "The weather grows cold, the holidays are bearing down upon us and soon we will find ourselves in that seething caldron of unmannerly behavior: the family holiday gathering.
"It gets rude in there..." And she goes on to recount some hysterical family antics.
I was sitting in a diner having breakfast and laughing out loud as I read this absolutely hysterical feature. But when I finished, I thought, "Wow. None of this behavior even remotely resembles my family. We just don't do that stuff. In nearly 60 years that I've celebrated family Thanksgivings, no relative or friend of the family has, as Wadler described, arrived angry, drunk, obnoxious, unruly or depressed."
Wadler also goes on to point out, "Clearly, there are many who not know how to behave when they go home for the holidays -- guests obviously confused by the meaning of `an outing at Grandma's house,' who choose the occasion to announce to the table that a family member is gay. Or hosts who seat a 19-year-old college student at the children's table and wonder why he does not return the following year."
For the remainder of the piece, Wadler launches into real life Thanksgiving nightmares that run the gamut. Some of her vignettes include rude and drunk seniors who try to wrench the sacred ritual of carving the bird from regular family members and send the bird sliding into someone's lap. Or guests who pick fights with other guests over professions that they're in, like the law. And one of my favorites was the first-person account by a New York City writer about his special dinner that included a wonderful mix of cooking aficionados and gourmet cooks who had prepared an incredible feast. The writer said that his mother kept "noodling around the various foods, and she says, `What, no sweet potatoes?' It was a tone of complaint, she announced it to the assembled crowd and I was not happy. To her, it wasn't Thanksgiving unless there were sweet potatoes and marshmallows."
So, after reading this absolutely wonderful piece about the horrors of the holiday, I decided instead to make my essay a note of thanks for all the quiet, warm and wonderful Thanksgiving holidays my wife and I have spent with our families these past 43 years. I can say with honesty and pride that, aside from an occasional recipe failure on a side dish that Thanksgiving has always been a day we looked forward to with joy.
I'm convinced that one of the main reasons we've had such success is that we moved away from Chicago 37 years ago and haven't had to balance our holiday between two families. It's mostly been us, wonderful friends we've made and family who genuinely wanted to travel and be with us.
My wife has loved to entertain and has always made a delicious Thanksgiving feast. Everyone who comes insists on bringing something and there are no rituals or rules that govern the holiday. I can't explain it exactly, but everyone leaves their stress and tension behind when they ring the doorbell.
Even my wife, who traditionally gets wound up cooking the meal -- her kitchen is her domain and don't come near her -- suddenly transforms just at the moment when the first guest arrives.
Probably the only downer for a Thanksgiving, and that lasted all of 10 minutes, was when my brother and sister-in-law, who were regulars for a lot of years, were visiting, and my wife had made a phenomenal squash soup. I was charged with bringing it in from the outside refrigerator. Meanwhile, my wife, our daughter and son-in-law and our younger daughter were shmoozing in the kitchen while I retrieved.
I knew the car was too close to the refrigerator door, but I absolutely thought I could navigate the large soup container around the opening and get it out. Not! It slipped right out of my hands and landed, thank goodness, face up on the garage floor. What a sight.
Everyone came running when they heard the bang. Then the laughter started. I looked like one large human piece of squash. I thought my wife was going to cry after her beautiful soup effort, but then she joined right in with the laughter. Thankfully, we still had enough soup to serve all of us and it was fabulous. What a great evening.
Definitely one of the most beautiful Thanksgivings was two years ago at my brother-in-law's and sister-in-law's -- Sherwin and Steph -- in Roanoke, Va. Because my mother-in-law Anne had died that June, Sherwin wanted to bring everyone together.
Family converged on Roanoke by plane and car, including our younger daughter and her significant other, who arrived by plane on Thanksgiving morning from Michigan. All together, there were about 14 people sleeping at the house with just four of us sleeping at a hotel (my wife and daughter have trouble sleeping and we voted against sleeping bags) and it was the most gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend we've ever spent.
My sister-in-law outdid herself, everyone pitched in, my daughter's significant other made the most outrageous guacamole we've ever eaten and there was never a cross word spoken or a voice raised. The following year, we missed the chaos and had a very quiet Thanksgiving back here, because our son-in-law was in Iraq. It was no time to travel.
This year, our daughter and son-in-law will be entertaining and, frankly, we're glad. With the house needing to stay clean for potential showings, my wife was just as happy to provide two side dishes and let my son-in-law cook. He's a wonderful cook and loves to entertain. So we will be four and our granddog. We may bring our two dogs (they are always welcome), but we'll see.
That morning, our daughter will do her regular run in the annual Turkey Trot, the town's huge Thanksgiving race. Our younger dog, Patches, and I will be at Wakeman Boys Club in Southport to cheer her on at about 7:30 in the morning. And that's our annual ritual.
And this year, I'm just thankful that we are managing, I have some work, our son-in-law is home safe after a year in Iraq and we are all in good health. But more important, as we break bread and carve the turkey, I will be at peace and feel such joy in just being surrounded by family.
Steve Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.