Everyone has visions of the perfect Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving -- everyone gathered around the table looking on as Mom presents the most perfect turkey in the world, Dad standing proudly, ready while everyone smiles in anticipation of the moment. Unfortunately, this perfect Thanksgiving only exists in movies and Hallmark cards.
When I was a kid, Thanksgiving wasn't that much of a big deal with my family. We were together so often, it was like -- why do we need another day to be together? And because that mentality was there, it was like "Oh, another Thursday dinner with the family," very casual and loose.
We did the usual Thanksgiving things in school like making placemats and turkeys, reading the same Thanksgiving stories every year, and of course the occasional puppet show. Typical projects that were representative of the holiday -- although one year we actually got to have an authentic dinner with all the trimmings, which was so cool.
Every year on Thanksgiving Day, the same thing happens. It's tradition and nearly impossible to break -- something always goes wrong, there's always an argument over being on time, the food or someone's attitude. This usually went on all day until dinner when everyone would finally shut up and eat, silence for a half hour to an hour, then the meal was over and we would go our separate ways to pass out from the turkey.
My mother and Aunt Mame took turns for years cooking, and every year it got funnier and funnier. One year Aunt Mame accidentally set the turkey on fire, but that was because three people turned up the oven and when she finally opened the door, the whole pan was engulfed in flames. There were six people in the kitchen just staring, dumbfounded as to what to do when my uncle, who acts like nothing bothers him, casually said, "Either dial 911 and get the fire department to put that thing out or open the windows and let the smoke out," and went back to watch football on TV.
And of course with my mother, every year she bitches that she does all the work and no one helps her except when we do, we're immediately thrown out of the kitchen for doing the errand wrong, and of course there's the traditional Thanksgiving fight over whether or not my father will stay awake for the entire day or crap out at around 2 o'clock, his traditional Thanksgiving nap. He's fallen asleep at every single relative's house and we've even taken bets on how long and where he'll fall asleep. Except this fight with my mother usually ends with the slamming of a door, but usually all is forgotten by the time dinner is on the table.
My family tends to go old school when it comes the cooking of the meal, my father and uncle will hide in the living room, terrified they'll be called on to do something, and wind up getting yelled at while my aunts and my mother work in the kitchen, catching up. It's so interesting to go back and forth watching the dynamic between them -- my uncle and father barely acknowledge each other while the women are finishing each others' sentences. And as soon as the meal is over -- and I mean the fork's barely back on the plate -- they start cleaning up and you may accidentally lose a hand. They move like lightning.
We as the kids have our traditions, trying to gross each other out or make each other laugh until one of us is on the floor -- usually me, because my cousin will warp his face and break out the Pee-wee Herman voice and it sends me over the edge. For a few years we even refused to eat turkey for reasons I can't even remember, but I can remember my Aunt Mame, upon heating my mac and cheese, rolling her eyes at me and saying, "Seriously, I spent all this time cooking and you're eating this," and acting like I slapped her -- which, in retrospect, I can see why.
The day doesn't totally suck because I love my family dearly, but it's just the buildup to the day is a mess -- nothing seems to go right and everyone's on the edge until the final moment and then it becomes the Norman Rockwell moment, and when it's over and the turkey coma hits, you pass out remembering what you're grateful for. A family to make you nuts but also give you a sense of responsibility and expectations to live up to.
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?!
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