11/22/2012 01:48 pm ET

Michael Chabon Reminds Us That Thanksgiving Is Where the Meal Is

You people may assemble with ritual correctness at the annual table under the ancestral roof, but in my family, Thanksgiving is as homeless as the Pilgrims. Our family tree has no trunk; it's all roots and branches. There is no grand high grandmother to ingather the tribes by fiat or the irresistible excellence of her fare. Instead, unwritten charts ensure that a byzantine system of mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law rotates the meal through the houses of our family, with guilt playing the role of gravitation. I am not at all sure that in the two decades my wife and I have been together we have ever passed consecutive Thanksgivings at the same table. We have gone to Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Calabasas, California, to my mother and my mother-in-law, to my mother's sister-in-law and my sister-in-law's mother. We have even, on occasion, hosted the meal ourselves.

Sometimes all these intricacies wear us down and we flee, like tax fugitives seeking shelter from a burdensome bureaucracy, to the tranquil haven of somebody else's mishegas. One year we went to the Sacramento mansion of a Greek-American whose family gave thanks with first-generation fervor and a buffet that honored the traditions on either side of their hyphen. Another year we went to the home of some writer friends in Pacifica for a Creole soul-food extravaganza, lavishly furnished with young novelists, chess pie, and Dungeness crabs plucked that morning out of the bay. In 2002, we fled to Manka's Inverness Lodge.

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