Just as surely as the frazzled Pilgrims led by William Bradford stumbled off the Mayflower after 66 days aboard their careening vessel grateful to find Plymouth Rock (or any rock for that matter) every year, my family faithfully assembles at my parents' home in upstate New York to partake in a glorious Thanksgiving meal.
The ritual commences. We gather from disparate corners of the globe, overcoming vast geography, our clashing calendars, demanding work schedules, and above all, our battling food preferences. And that's where the comparison to our forefathers begins and ends.
While the erstwhile Pilgrims were saved from starvation by the ingenuity of the Native Americans, our family forever sits as a "House Divided." Huddled in one corner are the carnivores -- my brother and his family who like "anything with meat" and wield knives as sharp as Revolutionary War battle axes while across from them, poised to devour all things green, are my own brood "the broccoli-ites" who scour the table for "plant-like" specimens -- things that rabbits normally eat and forage for, stalks that sprout from the ground and contain chlorophyll while my poor mother and father, like bookends, sit breathless with fear.
The dishes emerge slowly from beneath their elaborate foil...
At first, there is never verbal sparring, only a wary eyeing of the battlefield, a silent "sizing-up"-- a surveying of military tactics.
"That's sausage?" my brother Stan begins by picking at the tofu wiener with the prongs of his fork.
"It's made of tofu," my daughter Eliza informs him yearly. "It's like 'Tofurky.'"
He squints. A sign of trouble. "Who eats sausage on Thanksgiving?"
"There's 'Tofacon,'" my other daughter, Tamara, offers.
"You know. 'To-facon.' Fake bacon. I can make some if you want--"
"Who eats bacon at Thanksgiving? What happened to the turkey?"
And then, we must face the inevitable.
Last year, my sister-in-law, Leah, brought a 30-pound turkey to our festivities. His name was "Hans." It said so on his "adoption" papers and she proudly delivered the bird -- freshly killed, bloodied, and with stray feathers to my husband, the Buddhist, who is an amazing chef and who, customarily, in an annual gesture of peace, lovingly prepares the entire Thanksgiving meal.
"What do you think?" Leah asked him, hoisting the still strappingly handsome Hans up onto the kitchen counter. "Natalie has a farm in Columbia County, so I know he's from a good family."
My husband stared blankly at Hans.
"I have a report card that documents his activities."
"He gets report cards?" My 8-year-old was suddenly interested.
"Here." Leah proudly handed us a sheet that documented Hans' life before he met his fate and ultimately, his maker. Apparently, Hans was an "active" turkey who "made many friends (and fowls) easily," and was "not fussy in his gobbling habits."
"He was a good bird," Leah confirmed.
"Don't you feel better?" my brother asked while surreptitiously nibbling at the homemade phyllo dough pockets filled with sweet potato and pan-roasted beets. "He had a good life."
"I think I feel worse," my husband murmured.
"I'm abstaining," my older daughter, Eliza, announced.
"How can you abstain from Thanksgiving?" My mother, the pacifist, had entered the rumble. "No one's voting."
"It's not a referendum," my father pitched in, waving his knife for emphasis.
As everyone was quibbling, I noticed that the raw vegetables were quickly disappearing and that the meat-eaters had already loaded up on more than their share of vegetarian options. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied my brother grabbing yet another of my husband's delectable vegan spinach puffs.
"I'm abstaining anyway," Eliza declared, "I'd rather eat 'wham' than eat Hans for Thanksgiving."
"What's 'wham'?" my brother groaned.
"Tofu ham," my 8-year-old, Tamara, explained, enlightening the cousins.
That's when conversation ended. Sadly, all I remember about last year's Thanksgiving was that it resembled a funeral procession.
This year we have vowed to make amends. Like the inspired Pilgrims whose palates were enlightened by the culinary bounty of the Native Americans, we will arrive at a collective peace. Although the ghost of Hans still looms large, my brother has promised he will bring the vegetables. "I have a deep fryer," he told me on the phone, "what do you think? I can put a little meat on that asparagus. You know, make it hearty."