I have so many fond memories of Thanksgiving traditions as a child: the carefully set table; the beautiful presentation of the turkey before my Father expertly carved it; going around the table recounting the things we were grateful for that year.
Oh wait, those weren’t our Thanksgiving traditions. That was the 1970 Brady Bunch Thanksgiving episode.
Our family holidays seemed to start out on a good note, with the good china coming out of the hutch, and beautiful brass candleholders nestled on the table. Great classic albums played from the console stereo, like Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Neil Diamond, and Andy Williams. To top it all off, there would be a big bowl of nuts in the living room, complete with nutracker and little picks, to serve as an appetizer before the meal was served. It was downright festive.
Suffice it to say that at some point, the festivities would turn ugly. I don’t recall what would start the shift, likely because I wasn’t great at picking up subtleties when I was a kid. Certainly not when I had a whole bowl full of pecans and Brazil nuts to eat to my heart’s content, anyway. In my memory, we would all be enjoying a lovely day with parades on the TV and Sweet Caroline bouncing off the walls, and the next thing I knew there was crying, cussing, slamming, and occasionally a small kitchen appliance sailing through the air towards my Father’s head. On a few occasions, there were actual physical confrontations, squealing tires, and police involvement. Ah, memories.
Once I had my own family, I was determined to have traditions that my children would hold dear and pass on in their adult lives. I don’t know why, but it seemed incredibly important. I think I watched too much TV, and certainly my monthly devouring of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal didn’t do anything to discourage me.
(Speaking of those magazines, have you ever noticed that virtually every woman’s magazine has 2 consistent cover focuses? 1. Some sort of weight loss story; and 2. a fabulous picture of some decadent dessert. They get ya comin’ and goin’!)
Anyway, I developed an obsession for Happy Holiday Events, and Thanksgiving was like Opening Day of my Happy Holiday Season. Tablescapes. Ridiculously elaborate menus, with 2-3 appetizers, 2 main dishes, 5-7 side dishes, and at least 3 desserts. I planned what time we would wake up, when the parades came on, and who would set the table. I made sure beer and bourbon were left off the list, as I had picked up on the relationship between spirits and the haywire holidays of my youth.
The first time I met Steve’s parents was over Thanksgiving weekend. They made the trip from Jackson, MS to Denver, CO to meet this divorced woman with 3 teenagers, a dozen years senior to their only son. As much as Steve kept telling me to not worry about it, that they didn’t like ANYBODY when they first met them, I was intent on winning them over with a Happy Holiday Event. I approached Steve about 3 weeks before the big day, and in all seriousness, presented him with 3 different turkey recipes. Should I go with the citrus zest? The traditional herbed turkey? He laughed at me. I burst into tears. He laughed harder. THEN he called his Mother and told her about my dilemma over the recipes, and they both laughed.
I married that jackass anyway. Oh, and despite his warnings, his parents loved me. Probably because of the amazing turkey, whole smoked salmon, two varieties of stuffing, and the stunning tablescape.
Fast forward 15 years. I am lucky enough to be near my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren. I am still obsessed with Happy Holiday Events. The girls and I make menus, plan, schedule movie nigths, make decor, bake, and create traditions. I am Matriarch, hear me roar!
Last year, due to conflicting schedules and extended family obligations, we decided to forego our traditional Thanksgiving meal. Instead, we carved out a 2-hour window in the morning to go out for breakfast. It was great. Certainly less complicated. Less expensive. How wonderful! No stress. No house preparation. It was fine. My kids didn’t have to drive to different corners of the tri-county area and stuff themselves with 2 full meals and 3 dessert stops, but we still had “together time”. I’ve got the photos to prove it.
Once was enough for me. A few weeks ago, I opened the conversation about Thanksgiving, and was relieved when all the kids admitted that they missed having a real Thanksgiving dinner here. YES! TRADITIONS! I was more than ready to get some menus going, and spend my evenings devouring the Pinterest boards. (I’ve long since given up the print versions of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal.)
Steve was the lone hold out. He thought last year’s breakfast was a perfect Thanksgiving celebration. WHAT?!? No stress, no shopping, no prepping, no dishes, no housecleaning, just a relaxing day.
“But, honey, don’t you remember that later that day we tried to find somewhere to eat and everything was closed? We ended up at a bad Chinese buffet. It was sad.”
“Right, you’re right. We’ll go earlier this year and hit Denny’s. They do the whole plated dinner thing.”
After about an hour of Point / Counterpoint, we reached a deal. We are having a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with our family. In a restaurant. No stress, no shopping, no prepping, no dishes, no housecleaning….but turkey and decor and dressing up and desserts on fine china. I think it’s cheating, but what the hell…..it’s still better than the days of small kitchen appliances being zinged at my Father’s head.
Oh, and we’ve already agreed that Christmas is untouchable. Probably even accelerated a bit. More outdoor decor. Maybe some new furniture. There’s a 6 ft. Santa statue I have my eye on. And, as always, there will be a big bowl of nuts and the sounds of Andy Williams floating through the house.
There is much to be thankful for.