12/07/2011 10:30 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2012

Great (Havoc-Wreaking Holiday) Expectations

My spouse and I experienced a turkey-less, stuffing-less, cranberry-sauce-less, and green-bean-casserole-less Thanksgiving dinner this year, and survived to tell of it.

When Rebecca (not her real name, but I'm taking no chances: her youngest son's a lawyer) invited us to join her and her extended family for their holiday dinner in Cliffside Park (darkest New Jersey, Oh Best Belovéd), she let us know from the get-go it would not be a traditional, Plymouth-Rock-style spread. Rebecca's tribe (tribe-let, really) is half-Spanish, half-New-Jersey-Jewish, and she announced that corned beef, spinach, corn bread, plantains and pickles would be on the menu.

I didn't flinch. I didn't hark back nostalgically to my myriad family feasts of yesteryear. I didn't even break stride on my way to Costco to pick up the Kosher dills. Rebecca's one of my closest friends and, by Cracky, if she's serving corned beef on Thanksgiving, and I also get the opportunity to meet her sons, their wives, and her cousin, Nancy... well, bring it on.

The evening was a grand success, too. The boys (well, they're men, of course, by now) brought their wives (darlings) one of whom is expecting and one of whom is Croatian (a group of Europeans whose painful history I just happen to know by heart) and cousin Nancy is also a delight. Everyone in the group had high, three-digit IQs, none was a card-carrying Republican, we all watch the same folks on TV (Lewis Black, notably) and most were willing to at least taste my pumpkin pie (the one nod to more traditional Thanksgiving fare on the table).

We also all share a wicked sense of humor and, over that huge, well-provisioned table, we told jokes, discussed airline security and health care, sampled the various high-end wines the boys had brought, and heard (some of us for the first time; most, for the umpteenth) David and Peter's story about "The Mexican Hotel" (actually, a Cancun timeshare where Peter, apparently, went postal at the age of 16, and called a 300-pound desk clerk a "fat bastard" -- and that's the very short version). The long version, Peter, I'm not going to repeat here. Your secrets are safe with me. Suffice it to say, though, The Mexican Hotel tale is right up there with Hangover for laughs.

But there's a little point here I don't want you to miss amongst the atypical courses of Rebecca's meal: we could have had saltwater taffy and oysters and maraschino cherries on that table, for all that the food mattered.

Over the holidays, most of us get lost, mired down in and buried beneath expectations and memories, when the present tense is all that's being served up, and all we're going to get for dinner, no matter how much we pine for Thanksgivings past.

The present tense, folks, is what's on offer. So, eat up!

I'm an only child who lost both her parents young and horribly. I'm recovering, slowly, badly, grumblingly, from spinal fusion surgery, can't teach Iyengar Yoga as a result, and am not usually, in my current state, the life of any party. The past, in my case, has thrown me some foul curves, and my head's still spinning as a result. You'd think I'd be clinging to anything at all comforting: traditional foods, big tall evergreens in the living room, my 60-year-old Xmas stocking, etc., etc.

Not a bit of it. I'm trying, instead, to roll with the punches, and accept invitations to color outside my lines.

Corned beef and pickles? Why the hell not?

I can't remember laughing as much in a very, very long time as I did that evening. I'm allergic to dogs and cats, but didn't break out in hives due to Rebecca's very, very large Rottweiler lolling at my feet. And the corned beef, slathered in mustard and cooked to perfection, was superb, I'm sure. If you're not a vegetarian: which I am.

Now, I think we've got a trip to a tapas bar scheduled for Xmas/Chanukah/Whatever, and that's fine by me. Bring on those chopitos, and full speed ahead to The Mexican Hotel, Chapter Two!