Lea Wait, here, thinking about Thanksgiving.
As a young wife, at the first Thanksgiving she hosted, my mother somehow managed to roast a turkey that was rotten inside. Some women would have laughed and declared the day a vegetarian Thanksgiving, but my mother relived the horror of that day every year, and always cooked “a few extras” on Thanksgiving in case “something went wrong” at the last minute. She was clearly relieved every year when she carved the turkey and all was well, but she gave me a permanent nervousness about the holiday.
When I was a child my mother and grandmother prepared a lavish Thanksgiving dinner, which always started with shrimp cocktail, included a small glass of wine (Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve were the only days wine was served in my home), and ended with a choice of several pies, and sometimes an English trifle. The food was delicious, but most years our only guests were an aged great-aunt and my father’s sister, husband and son, who sat silently for most of the occasion. My one set of living grandparents lived with us, so seeing them was an everyday occurrence. For me, the day was one to be survived.
But maybe my mother was right. Maybe that first disastrous Thanksgiving was a harbinger of holidays to come.
There was the year my mother convinced my father to carve the turkey. He carved himself instead. Result? Blood stains on the embroidered white linen tablecloth, a trip to the emergency room for stitches, and a cold dinner.
Another year my mother burned herself, and sat with a bandaged hand as my grandmother served. (My father having proven himself incompetent at that task.)
My grandmother’s stroke on another Thanksgiving ended that day in the hospital.
And on my personal “worst Thanksgiving ever” I had a bad case of the flu and my small Greenwich Village apartment didn’t have heat that cold holiday weekend. My husband (not my current husband), who’d had just gotten out of the hospital himself, and was on heavy medications, had no idea how to cope, and we had no food in our apartment. We’d planned to go to New Jersey to celebrate with my parents, but clearly couldn’t go. Instead, when my father announced after the holiday dinner that he was taking a bus to Massachusetts to spend the rest of the weekend with a friend, my mother packed up little dishes of what she’d cooked and sent them with my father to the Port Authority bus terminal in New York, where my husband met him. My husband and I ate the cold food under bed covers, for warmth. It might have been cold, but it was turkey and stuffing and vegetables. And I was very thankful for my mother.
Years later, my sisters took turns hosting Thanksgiving (I did Christmas) for a few years.
Since my sister Nancy’s two daughters and our mother all celebrated birthdays Thanksgiving week, she made three cakes to add to our celebration, which was fun.
And then for a few years my father (by then separated from my mother,) invited his girlfriend, my mother, and my sisters and I and our families to join him for an awkward Thanksgiving buffet dinner at the Upper Montclair Country Club.
I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner during those years, but, always counting pennies, I’d buy several turkeys when they were on sale for the holiday, and once or twice a month all winter I cooked a turkey dinner for my daughters and my mother. My father never understood why no one in my branch of his family ever ordered turkey at his country club Thanksgivings, but turkey was an
everyday meat to my girls.
When my children were older, and the country club Thanksgivings were over, one daughter was a cheerleader and one a flag carrier at their high school’s Thanksgiving football games, and one of my daughters worked that day. I’d cook a turkey and a couple of pies, and everyone would eat whenever they got home. One Thanksgiving was memorable because while I was cooking, about twenty wild turkeys decided to walk down the center of our street. Flaunting their survival? I don’t know. But definitely blocking traffic.
The first Thanksgiving I lived in Maine full-time just my mother and I were together for Thanksgiving. She insisted that we just have a chicken — a turkey was too much food for two people. Which it might have been. But we didn’t have either. Our oven broke down in the middle of cooking dinner, and we ended up eating hot dogs that night.
Which all may explain why this Thanksgiving my husband and I plan to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boothbay Harbor. I still buy turkeys on sale; we ate one just last week. So, I won’t be surprised if on Thursday we decide to order something other than turkey. And, most of all, we’ll be thankful to be together.
Wherever you are, and whoever you share Thanksgiving with — I wish you a joyful day, with laughter and joy. And a fully cooked turkey.