More celery and peanut butter dammit!
A tale of caution for those perfectionists out there during Thanksgiving.
When I was 22, I had one of my notorious “big ideas” to fix Thanksgiving dinner for
my relatives, plus my new boyfriend, Jim, and his extended family.
I wanted everything to be a perfect “Sunset-Magazine-cover-golden-roasted-turkeyon-
a-platter” memory. Before my dad passed away, my recollection of Thanksgiving was that everyone was dressed in something that needed ironing. Women wore dangly earrings.
My mom wore her special holiday Donna Reed-like apron. And she pulled this off after working the night shift at the hospital as an RN. She’d fly home in her white uniform and nurse’s cap, change and get right to work inserting her hand deep into the turkey and yanking out the gizzards.
We set the table with goldware we had bought for her one year at Carl’s Drugstore. We used a special linen tablecloth supposedly from Scotland that had a burn hole, but if you strategically placed the centerpiece over it, no one would ever know.
Everyone got an unmatched wine glass. Even us kids got a sip of the Mogen David wine. We lit tapered candles, sat down together (never EVER letting the food get cold) and my brother would say a quick blessing that would often make me laugh and generate a “look” from my dad.
Yes, that was our middle class Thanksgiving — complete with celery slathered with peanut butter, deviled eggs and chunks of Monterey Jack cheese for appetizers. No matter how dry the turkey, or salty the green bean casserole, no matter WHAT, you told the cook “thank you” and asked, “may I be excused from the table?” And dammit, you’d better be on your best behavior.
Now it was me in the frilly apron — preparing the most important meal of the year, for 20 people. The traditional appetizers were set prettily on the mismatched serving dishes; heck, I even added shrimp with cocktail sauce to “fancy it up.” I changed tradition and put pickles in the deviled eggs.
Little did I know that my boyfriend Jim had an auntie with a razor tongue, and that cooking for his family was a feat no “innocent” outsider should ever take on. I failed because I bought a frozen turkey instead of a fresh one; I did not provide enough celery and peanut butter; they preferred canned cranberry sauce over fresh, and “who in the hell puts pickles in the deviled eggs?”
Well, Happy@$%& Thanksgiving to you too.
Twenty-two years later, I’m still at it. We have hosted Thanksgiving every year since then, except for two. Yup, I married Jim, and his family is now mine.
And up until, I’d say the last five years, I didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving much. As much as I’d like to push it off on my in-laws, I do take responsibility.
But the crux of the matter is that I have what my friends call the “Martha Syndrome.” Yes, in reference to Martha Stewart, who teaches us all how to personally embroider linen napkins for every guest, or how to make a handmade wreath out of just gathered autumn leaves for the front door.
I am a recovering “Martha.” But really, I’m a “Donna Reed.”
See, my mom missed the sexual revolution. She was born in 1924, and although she was progressive in a lot of ways, it was always her job to serve her family. And that was passed on to me. Be the perfect wife. The perfect daughter. The perfect mother. The perfect hostess. The perfect employee. Donna Reed had this down way before Martha.
Some therapist could make millions trying to change me.
I have insisted on having my version of a perfect Thanksgiving every year. Don’t think less of me, but one year I actually made people go around the table and say what they were thankful for. I have never seen my husband’s eyes roll so far into the back of his head. It took a lot of wine and a lot of wanting to throw the turkey out the window, to realize that families are not perfect; I’m certainly not perfect. And sometimes these good intentioned family events look more like a Saturday Night Live parody than a Sunset Magazine cover.
I’m self-rehabilitating. I have enjoyed Thanksgiving more. We play lots of cards. Auntie drops them as she only has one functional hand, since she has been debilitated by MS. Jim created a slot car table that comes down from the garage ceiling. The women get bored quickly, but the men are transfixed for hours. My mom seems to always eye my casual dinner outfit and ask me, “Really, is that what you are going to wear?”
We now laugh about the celery and peanut butter, and the “who the hell puts pickles in deviled eggs” comments; we also laugh about how my loveable yet dopey brotherin-
law tried to get my elderly mom high with his so-called “medicinal” marijuana one year, in our garage when no one was paying attention. We all realize that our moms aren’t doing so well and we better be on our best behavior god dammit, as they might not be around next year. We’ll have less place settings at the table.
But we’re a family, and I’m not lying when I tell you that I love my in-laws.
And so, I offer, for what it’s worth, to any of you recovering “Donnas” and “Marthas,” my top ways to survive Thanksgiving, after 19 years of annually sticking my hand into the proverbial turkey hole:
• An early run on Thanksgiving morning, combined with a couple of glasses of wine just before the in-laws arrive, works like a charm.
• I would never lie to you. The $6 frozen turkey from the supermarket will turn out incredibly if you brine it and roast it on the outside grill (it also frees up your oven). Email me for my brine and grill recipe.
• Ask for help even though you can do it better and faster. It may be painful for you, and it may be shocking for the folks that you’ve spoiled all these years, but think baby steps! I now ask someone else to bring the celery and peanut butter and the deviled eggs.
• Every family has their own traditions. And traditions are weirdly comforting (even though we bitch about Aunt Martha’s green jello every year). Maybe Cheese Whiz doesn’t fit into your gourmet menu — remember to pick your (culinary) battles.
• Do something for yourself. I can’t force people to eat my homemade cranberry sauce, no matter how good I think it is. But I’ll keep on making it for myself, because I like it. Oh, and get a nice pedicure. You may look haggard from all the work to pull the day together, but if you look down to pretty toes, you will feel better.
• Find the joy and find the laughter — soon enough there’s going to be a new girl in town that wants to host Thanksgiving at a different house and in a different city. Now, wouldn’t that be a kick?
Originally published by Raving Consulting