Saturday, December 5, 2009


I was talking with my upstairs neighbor about the Thanksgivings of our respective youths and I came to the (admittedly belated) conclusion that some people just had much better Thanksgivings growing up than I did.

For example, my neighbor told me that when he was a kid "it was all about the food" (he's Italian). His family would cook a nice big meal for Thanksgiving and they'd eat it and then later they'd all go out for dinner. "Wow." I thought "How simple and how pleasant."

Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday-even in college when it's advent signaled the end of a trimester. I never understood why some people liked it (unless they were really into football.)
My objection wasn't political (way to thank the Native Americans!) It's just that Thanksgiving when I was a kid was never any fun. It was always more of a ceremony than a celebration. It involved dressing in Nice Clothes (for the people who saw you in your pajamas a few hours ago) and eating food that we would never otherwise prepare and eat at an odd hour. Usually after having driven up to Massachusetts from New York.

Memorable Thanksgivings include the first year I was a vegetarian. My younger sister was also enjoying a spot of vegetarianism at the time. My mom asked "but you'll eat your grandma's turkey-right?" and was upset when we explained that turkey is not a vegetable. My father refused to take us on an extra shopping trip to get anything for us to eat. So I made Pasta Primavera with what was in my grandma's house-canned peas and french green beans and at least a fresh tomato and some garlic. In hindsight, we could have done what I usually do at Thanksgivings-eat only the sides and still leaved the table sated. But the sides at our Thanksgiving (with the exception of the mashed potatoes) had never appealed to my sister and I. They were mashed turnips, mashed squash and stuffing. None of it had any garlic in it and none of it would have been presented for us to eat at any other time of the year.

Then there was the Thanksgiving my senior year of high school. I got menstrual cramps for the first time. I had never experienced such outrage to my body before. And since I had no idea this could happen (I'd heard rumors-although none to explain how horrible I felt-but it had never happened to me) I didn't have the forethought to pack Advil. I was clearly incapacitated, but I was too embarrassed to explain why and it wouldn't have done any good anyways. It was Thanksgiving and there were no drugstores open. So I told them I had a horrible headache and they came up with the only pain killer in the house -very old baby aspirin. None of us cousins had been young enough to need such a thing for quite a while so who knows how old the bottle was. I took four. They didn't really help.

I can still remember my dad's smile as he doled them out-he joked with me about exceeding the maximum dosage because I weighed more than the expected consumer of baby aspiarin-and my embarrassment as to why I needed them. In hind sight, my grandma, who suffered from arthritis probably had a good deal of different kinds of pain killers-but I can understand why she didn't think they were appropriate for her teenage granddaughter.

There were fun moments as well of course (I strongly suspected there would have been more if the New York City Public school system hadn't decided to assign my sister and I extra homework for the long weekend.) There was the year my mom read that a good way to keep your turkey moist was to put the bird in men's briefs. So she bought a set of XL tighty-whities for the turkey and we soaked them in butter and put them on the bird giggling all the while.

Thanksgiving also, for some reason or other always had a course of Weird Fruits Dad Got in Brooklyn. So my sister and I were introduced to pomegranates, quinces, star fruits and kiwis decades before the rest of the world caught on. This course also contained Mozart Balls. It took me years to figure out what all the wonderful, nutty tastes were and nothing else I've eaten since then involves all of them at once.

And then there was the last Thanksgiving before my grandmother died and we stopped coming to MA. I don't remember much about it but I remember one small moment. It was a nasty day and my dad and I were sick of being cooped up in the house. So we took the car and went to West Beach. We walked maybe a quarter of the length of the beach-to about where the pilings stand from an old dock that used to be there-and then we had to turn back because it was too windy for us to hear what we were saying to each other. Also, our ears hurt from the wind. I was surprised and disappointed. I'd never been turned back by conditions on that beach before (we just wanted a walk-it's not like we planned on swimming.) But as we got back to the car I noticed something which redeemed the visit. There were bunches of seaweed at various high water marks on the beach and the seagulls were pulling mussels out of the seaweed-and dropping them back into the seaweed again. This "Pick the mussel up and drop it" instinct works okay when you've pulled the mollusk out of the rocks, but it's useless when you've pulled it out of seaweed on sand. So the seagulls would pick things up and drop them and then not only did the shells not break, but another seagull would pick the same mussel up and drop it into the same pile of seaweed and watch the shell not break again.

It was at that moment when I realized why seagulls are not the master race on this planet.

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