Yes, I am going to break tradition here by telling the truth. Thanksgiving meals with my family usually turned out to be hell on earth. I know that’s a far cry from what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about, (loving each other and being grateful for blessings), but we had good reason to grumble.
My mother usually barked orders at everybody about how to cook the meal while she sat on a recliner- comparable to a drill sergeant slurping a cold milkshake while you do push-ups on a 95 degree day, his combat boot digging into your back. By 3:00 p.m., my father, two sisters, and brother usually wanted to punt the bird out an open window and into our neighbor’s yard, as we hissed to each other “I’ll be damned if I’m doing this crap next year!” At least my mother kept us all on the same page. By the time we sat down to say grace, everybody was incredibly thankful about one thing- that Thanksgiving only comes once a year.
Of course, 364 days is a long time and by the time the next Thanksgiving rolled around, we were buttering the bird again, despising the whole process and griping that this year was definitely the last! Being cheap and not wanting to go out comes with a steep price: misery and wanting to hit each other with a football, the same way quarterback Jonathan Moxin hit his father’s face in the movie “Varsity Blues,” while trying to knock a beer can off his head. Unfortunately, my parents did not drink alcohol, so our collective torture was pure and untainted.
Our one saving grace was football. My dad got off a bit easier in that aspect, an ear piece connected to his AM radio. No matter how much my mother yelled, he could tune her out with the sportscasters analyzing football plays. We watched football every Thanksgiving and I always rooted for the Detroit Lions. I loved Joe Ferguson, the Buffalo Bills’ former quarterback. I am into nice, clean quarterbacks who do not break the law by assaulting women and peeling out of the parking lot after running over pedestrians. So, when Ferguson was traded to the Lions, I naturally followed him. The Lions, similar to Buffalo, have not had much Super Bowl luck. A woman that enjoyed breaking tradition, I secretly supported underdogs.
Let me tell you about a Thanksgiving that almost went under. A few years ago, right before kickoff for the Cowboys game, my brother and mother were preparing the turkey. I stayed out of the kitchen. I did not need any extra aggravation and since my mother complained about the way I was opening up a can of corn earlier in the day, I told her I was done and walked out. From the living room, I could hear them bickering as I watched the pigskin sail high into the air.
“Greg, you need to put a pan under the bag,” my mother said.
“Mom, we don’t need a pan. It’s fine.”
“Greg, will you please listen to me? I’m telling you that we need a pan under it!”
“Mom, we don’t need a damn pan!” he growled.
A few plays passed and the Cowboys went three and out. As their punter’s foot smashed the football away, a huge thud sounded from the kitchen, like an elephant hitting the kitchen floor.
“Awwww.. damn it Mom!” Greg growled, spewing a few other choice words.
“I told you, but you wouldn’t listen to me!”
I didn’t have a clear view, but I knew what had happened. My brother had insisted on dropping the 15 pound turkey into the plastic cooking bag sans a pan, while my mother held the bag. Hence, the bag broke, our turkey plummeting to the floor. We cooked and stuffed it it anyway. Later that day, the Lions also got stuffed, squashed into pumpkin pie by their opponent.
My family managed to tick me off royally in 2001. I hosted Thanksgiving at the apartment I shared with my sister. Family promises to help me cook around 1 p.m. were in vain. I wrestled with the wire turkey clamp for an hour, which set me back a bit and tore off most of my fingernails. My family didn’t show up until 5 p.m.
What is a girl to do? Implement the laws of karma when nobody’s looking. I pulled out my video camera and filmed people during their “finest,” moments, i.e. my grandmother stuffing her face with three handfuls of potato chips, close up shot of somebody’s new zit, and a magnified view of a mustache hair that my mother forgot to pluck. That year, my mother peeled potatoes, while my grandmother read a heartfelt story about being grateful.
Ever couple of lines, my grandmother would ask, “Are you listening, Laureen?”
“Yep, I’m listening,” my mother said, focusing on the potatoes.
When we watched the video afterwards, all of us were rolling on the floor with laughter at the visual dichotomy: the casualness of my mother peeling potatoes, while my grandmother read sweet, poignant moments. It looked like my mother did not give a hoot about my grandmother’s words, her face in night shade concentration. My sister lost her breath on my carpet, her knees to her chest and mouth agape, as tears poured down her face from laughing.
Our fun didn’t last long, as we watched the Cowboys game on my 27 inch television.
“You think you’re real smart, don’t you?” my mother asked my father, no earpiece to save him this time.
“What are you talking about?’ he asked, focusing on the game.
“You’re all making fun of me and I don’t like it!”
“God, nobody’s making fun of you. Relax.”
She expressed her displeasure five more times, until my dad finally said, “Geez, you can’t even enjoy a nice dinner around here!”
In 2009, we did get that “nice dinner” that we all thought we wanted. Nobody barked orders.
“I have to admit, things are peaceful today,” my father said, but the empty expression on everybody’s face masked an unsaid loss.
It was the first year without my mother and brother. As the Cowboys and Lions battled it out, we ate corn that I had opened “wrong” and sunk our forks into a turkey with “not enough butter.”
Though I never did ask my family how they felt, my dad’s arms folded across his chest, my sister showing her seven-year daughter Emily some old photos, I already knew the answer.
I know all of us wanted to stand in the Lion’s or Cowboys ’end zone, our arms open, as we waited to receive that punted bird- attached to the “misery” of our mother’s orders. We didn’t care about our fingers slippery with butter and flour or the bird hitting the turf as we dived to recover it, all of us rolling around and snickering about peeled potatoes. We felt comforted that once again, my mother had moved us onto the same page- Erica N @cuddle4butter.