Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah, come Light the Menorahhhhh...
Na na naa, de naa naa naaa dance the hora?
Oy vey! How did that song go?
So we got Chanukah and Thanksgiving together, like a two-for-one sale. My mother would have loved that.
Growing up, Chanukah meant 8 nights of trying to remember the words to this song in Yiddish while my mom assembled us; my sister, brother and myself around the dinette set as we lit the Menorah. Then she would dole out an array of the crappiest Chanukah gifts this side of Jerusalem.
What ten-year-old wants body lotion?
When we would complain she would scream, "For crying out loud!"
To this day, I have no idea what this means.
What does that mean? That you are not crying out loud or you are?
There was a temptation to stay in my bedroom and forget the whole thing, but for every fifth bogus gift or so there would be a real one.
A Tonka Truck, a Barbie Doll, a Dawn Doll (Barbie's smaller competition), a G.I. Joe action figure.
But even these were not exactly worth celebrating since Mom got everything on sale for being "slightly damaged."
Slightly?! I got an Action Jackson figure with no left hand!
It's not like torture was reserved just for Chanukah. Thanksgiving was not exactly worth cheering about either.
Mom always served kosher roast chicken. She informed us, despite our requests for a normal meal on the holidays, that none of us liked turkey, and that's why.
I actually liked turkey, or liked the idea of it anyway. I'd only tried it once that was in a sandwich slathered with deli mustard, not quite the same as a Thanksgiving roast turkey slathered in gravy. I'd begun the process of romanticizing things I deemed exotic like holiday meals that included an actual holiday dish.
As we were called to the Thanksgiving dinner table I would have a flash of my fantasy; a roaring fire, the smell of melting butter on hot biscuits, a table set with shiny silverware, china and glasses.
Our table was set with Dixie Riddle Cups. They provided the entertainment while we waited for our meal. We would spin the waxy paper cups around in our hands and read the riddle and the answer on the cup.
My riddle was, "What family drinks diet soda out of paper cups when other families have hot cider from mugs and wine from glasses?" Answer; mine.
The kosher chicken was almost always accompanied by asparagus out of the can. I was 16 when I learned that asparagus came another way, and that it's natural color was, in fact, green.
Mom was a double-entrée kind of lady, so the chicken was usually accompanied by what she called beef, and what was in fact a hunk of shell steak cooked for so long that one had to scrape off a burnt charcoal crust before eating it.
When we complained, Mom always said the same thing: "Charcoal is good for your stomach!"
We did the only thing one could do when it was time to devour a piece of scorched cardboard: We covered it with ketchup, compliments of a bowl filled with McDonald's ketchup packets Mom had pilfered.
We had cranberry sauce just once. It sat there, this red, can-shaped thing wiggling almost imperceptibly in the breeze. I had nightmares that the red cylinder was chasing me. In them, I ran screaming, and it just Slinky-ed menacingly behind me... bong, bong, bong.
One year, my parents did something unheard of in my family: They invited a guest to dinner. It was Thanksgiving after all, time to be generous right? Our next door neighbor, an elderly man we kids called Mr. T came to supper.
Mr. T was happy at first, thinking that a meal with a real family was much better than the one he usually attended at his church. Shortly thereafter, he assumed that dazed look usually reserved for those driving by a really bad traffic accident.
Maybe the plastic silverware got to him. It might have been the Entenmann's turkey cake Mom got on special because someone sat on it.
He left early, saying something about a job he had to do, and never dined with us again. The man had options.
This year, my darlings as the first morphing of Chanukah and Thanksgiving happens in what is it? A hundred-twenty-five years? I wish you latkes with cranberry sauce and good cheer all around!
If you happen to be alone on the holiday, just remember, it could always be worse. Mr. T. spent three days digesting after that holiday visit to our house. Evidently burnt steak really is not that good for your stomach.
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