The Sunday before Thanksgiving I’d already fallen into the holiday abyss. I woke up worried about how many pies to bake. Normally, that could be a legitimate concern, but there were going to be only four of us for Thanksgiving this year. Why did I feel obligated to make, never purchase, a pumpkin pie? Honestly, I don’t even like pumpkin pie except as a vehicle for whipped cream. And my guests had already said they’d prefer apple. I wanted pecan. But isn’t pumpkin required?
I’ll blame Norman Rockwell, Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker, the Hallmark Channel, and even my mother. Our culture puts huge expectations on the holidays. Thanksgiving should be celebrated with at least a dozen smiling family members around a table loaded with an enormous turkey, lots of disgusting side dishes which are only prepared once a year, and several varieties of pies.
Of course, this feast is held in a spotlessly clean house using Grandma’s china with the gold edges — which means they can’t go in the microwave or the dishwasher. The place settings must be framed with real silverware — which requires an entire day of polishing since it hasn’t been used since last year.
Although I don’t remember Grandma’s china pattern, I had always been intrigued by the satin-lined wooden box that held the real silverware. I was happy that my sister-in-law wanted the china. And I was ecstatic when I convinced my mother to sell the silver because, seriously, who wants all that work? However, once a year I still feel obligated to use my mother’s cut glass pickle dish. I don’t even like pickles.
So last Sunday, I started cleaning the house — for my own son. This is ridiculous. He grew up with my minimal standards of housekeeping, so why am I cleaning the house for him now? Besides, I’d seen his personal standards of domesticity when he lived on his own. His bathroom made gas station restrooms look sanitary.
But now, he is coming for Thanksgiving with his wife who comes from a huge family with siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and grandma. It is probably one of those perfect families who host the perfect Thanksgiving with recipes handed down from one generation to the next. Is she going to miss all that by coming to our house?
Really, my daughter-in-law is a sweetheart who couldn’t care less about my pet dust bunnies, but I’ll still be embarrassed if the house is a mess. And I want to provide her a proper Thanksgiving. If she really likes roasted Brussels sprouts with apricot glaze...
No. Forget that. I remember the year I tried to make roasted root vegetables for another son’s vegetarian girlfriend. The beets gave everything a sickly pink tinge, the carrots were cooked to a mushy, mealy, mass, while the parsnips remained hard as a rock. Who eats parsnips anyway?
Those parsnips brought back all the ghosts of Thanksgivings past. Once, when the boys were little, they helped make the stuffing and were fascinated by the turkey, but once it was all on the table, after they “oohed” and “aahed,” they declared it all gross and wanted a hot dog. Then there was the first time I cooked for my mother-in-law. Someone had recommended we put the stuffing under the skin of the turkey. It kind of worked, but the bird looked lumpy as if it was diseased. And while I was attending to the deformed bird, the mini-marshmallows on the sweet potatoes caught on fire so that the beeping smoke detector provided a rhythmic soundtrack for the screams and expletives.
Add that to the many years when my feminist side got angry that I had to twist arms to get my husband or sons to help with any small part of Thanksgiving preparation. After the meal, they’d leave the table assuming that what, Santa’s elves came to clean up the mess?
Looking back, my ridiculously stereotypical expectations for the perfect Thanksgiving often resulted in exhaustion, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment and even anger. Those aren’t exactly the emotions I want associated with a day of Thanksgiving.
So, this year I used the nice tablecloth and the better, but dishwasher safe, dishes. We had only two pies, and no Brussels sprouts. I stuck to the foolproof green bean casserole made with mushroom soup. The cranberries came straight out of the can in a perfect translucent cylinder. I found I got more help when I directly asked for it, and daughters-in-law can be fun, not intimidating.
However, as I ate my last bite of pecan pie, and joked about not having any pumpkin, the late afternoon sun came in at just the right angle to highlight the fingerprints on the refrigerator and the dust on the blinds. But it was OK. Not perfect, but just fine.
Sure, everything was great for about two minutes until I realized it was time to start panicking over finding the perfect Christmas presents, sending cards, decorating the house and deciding, with the pandemic raging, do we invite our elderly relatives over for our traditional New Year’s dinner? And I’ve got to remember to wipe off the refrigerator and dust the blinds.