Tuesday, November 24, 2009

11/24/09 The meaning of Thanksgiving

After some late RSVPs today, we're up to 29 people expected for Thanksgiving!!

This annual event started out as an "Orphan's" Thanksgiving, put on by our longtime friend Jim Franklin. He provided the turkey and the house; everyone else brought everything else. At the time, most of us were single, far away from origin family, young and unencumbered by habit or high standards of food quality. One year, Jim hosted about 30 people in his living room, with only a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling for light. We all had a great time, happy to be among our motorcycling friends for Thanksgiving.

The tradition continues, after more years than I can count. But we've changed. Most of us are paired off now, homeowners, settled. Some of us don't even count as orphans anymore, as we're now parents (though Dave and I are in a tiny minority among our old friends). Most of us drive cars to Thanksgiving now. And we're all a lot older.

Still, the come-as-you-may potluck approach persists, bringing with it the same friendly chaos and unpredictability. But now, for the first time, I'm finding that conflicts with my mature planning habits. Family life -- similarly chaotic and unpredictable -- develops ones' planning and structure, as coping mechanisms. Jim dealt with 30 people for Thanksgiving, no doubt many of them last-minute, but I'm finding that goes against my new ways of coping with excessive logistics, honed by being a mother and household air traffic controller.

Last year, we did a very un-Orphan thing for Thanksgiving: we drove to L.A. to be with family. We stayed for 3 days in Laura and Ryan's charming 2BR/1BA apartment with no doors on the bedrooms, no yard, no dishwasher, and a lot of rain -- and it worked out great. We had such a good time.

This year is a lot different from 2001 when Dave and I hosted the Orphan's Thanksgiving. No kids yet (I was pregnant with Gabriel). I'd never made a turkey before. Our oven undercooked by 50 degrees. Gravy hadn't even occurred to me. We had 18 people and two dogs, and it worked out great.

Since then, our friend Paul has hosted at his house, and the event started to move upscale. But he and his wife were ready for a break, and we'd promised to host it after our remodel was done. And it's turned into 29 people, including 6 we don't know at all -- very much in the spirit of the traditional Orphan's Thanksgiving.

But, I'm not using Pepperidge Farm stuffing -- I'm cutting ciabatta and herb bread myself. I'm not forgetting gravy -- I've made turkey stock already from wings and vegetables and herbs and plan to make the gravy a few hours before it's time to serve. I won't send Dave out in a desperate quest for an oven thermometer to verify the cooking temperature. I'm making sure there's salad, bread, appetizers, desserts.

But what really strikes me is not so much the contrast between the two times we've hosted this, but rather, the contrast between this year and last. Last year, Laura did most of the cooking, but I spent as much time in the kitchen with her as I could. Ryan made a fabulous green bean dish, and a few other things I forget now, and cleaned everything up. We all spent the whole day together, some of it outside, some of it in varying groups, but overall, together.

This year, I'm having fun prepping the cooking -- but I'm by myself.

At the Y this morning, running on the treadmill, I watched my second-least-favorite Food Network chef, Paula Deen (Emeril Lagasse is my least favorite). She was doing her usual overbuttered syrupy show with her two grown sons. One of her sons commented that it takes all day to prepare Thanksgiving food, but 10 minutes to eat it -- so the real fun was right now, spending time with your family preparing in the kitchen.

Boom. He hit that just right. Last year, I had so much fun cooking with Laura, and being together with the people closest to me all day. Today and yesterday, I've had a great time exercising my grand new kitchen, but I've been alone in it. My sous-chef sons, unlike Paula Deen's sons, bailed on me.

And perhaps that's the biggest difference between being an Orphan and being a family. It's not the fact that we have to rent tables, cook two turkeys, shrug our shoulders if three people bring one dish and no one brings salad, or that strangers represent one-fifth of our guests -- it's that while I'm chopping garlic, dicing onions, reducing maple syrup, infusing butter with sage and peeling parsnips, I'm by myself. And doing it across several nights, ahead of time, because I'll have so much to do on Thanksgiving Day with so many people that I won't be able to do much cooking. Paula Deen's son had it right; it's getting everything ready -- together -- Thanksgiving morning that really makes it Thanksgiving.

I'm still going to have a great time, and love seeing our longtime friends -- many of whom Dave and rode motorcycles and had many adventures with long before we had any idea we'd someday be together -- but still, the contrast between last year and this one has me thinking. We're not Orphans, not just by condition of life, but by state of mind. Maybe for us, it's time Thanksgiving is returned to the family.

(Or maybe we should go completely the other way, and invite genuine Orphans, such as active-duty military servicemen and women who can't be with their own families on Thanksgiving.)

Dave was home sick today, and Julian also home from school, though after 4 days he's finally seeming much better. Poor kid's been cooped up for days, so this is a welcome sight: Julian outdoors, out of the house, running happily. Today I took Julian, picked up Gabriel right after school, then took them to the library (Dave was home with Katrina, of whom I'd had enough after shopping with her this morning and she launched into another interminable tantrum.)

Though Julian can't reach everything on the book checkout machine, he can almost check books out entirely himself (Gabriel can).

These borrowed Magic Tree House books kept Julian busy -- motionless, even -- the remainder of the afternoon until dinner!

Then he was back to pestering, resisting, answering obnoxiously, ignoring, throwing himself on the floor when asked to put his shoes away. Definitely better.

Now I just hope he's going to sous-chef for me tomorrow. I need the help. Well really, I need him.


1 comment:

MamaB said...

I agree about the help in the kitchen. Maybe that's why I'm feeling a little less enthusiastic about this year compared to others. I enjoy doing all the cooking myself but this year I would like some help in the kitchen and around the house. Time to recruit my helpers.