Friday, November 26, 2010

A Happy Thanksgiving

To paraphrase Martin Amis, no one but Tolstoy can write about happiness and still be interesting. I believe there’s some truth to that (to quote the man himself “All happy families are alike…”) This is therefore going to be a rather boring post.

I have never really been a fan of Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, we’d usually fight the traffic between New York and Massachusetts to come to Grandma’s house in Beverly. There we’d dress for dinner and eat New England food-mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, turkey and pies. Nothing had any garlic in it. I always felt that it was a silly ritual. And my sister and I always had Homework to do over the weekend. This is not to say it was never fun. One year my mom had read that the best thing to do for a turkey was to soak a pair of men’s briefs in butter and put them over the bird. So she went out and bought a pair of XL BVDs to put over the bird. I could hear her laughing from several rooms away and came into the kitchen to see what the fuss was about. And dessert was always interesting. Dad would bring Mozart balls (chocolates with hazelnuts and almond paste) and the weirdest fruits he could find in Brooklyn (star fruits, kiwis and quinces) to eat along with grandma’s pies. But the holiday has never been a favorite of mine.

For the past few years I’ve quit going down to New York for Thanksgiving because it’s not much fun at all and they’re going to see me again in a month. Even staying up here and having it with friends, it’s still not my favorite holiday. This year I found myself looking forward to Thanksgiving for the first time in-ever*. It would be a chance to relax and eat a lot among friends and not have anything to do for Work or School. I mentioned this to my best friend, who was hosting this year-along with her husband and she agreed-“I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving this year-when have you ever heard me say that before?” Never.

This year Thanksgiving was different for me than it had been in previous years. I feel that my friends found it different as well. Instead of “Oh God! We’ve got to have Thanksgiving. Round up the usual suspects!” It was more like a holiday. It was like a Sugar Mags breakfast date that went on all day. I haven’t seen much of my friends this term so I was looking forward to a day of eating good food, drinking good beer and enjoying my friends’ company. That’s more or less how it worked out. There were small crises-the liquor store wasn’t open so I donated an extra 5 pack in my fridge, the vegetarian stuffing had to be re-done (Thank you!), the bean dip wasn’t baked long enough to suit the chef’s taste (it was delicious though) and one of our friends had brought his computer up, because his reinstallation of Windows XP had not gone by the book and he wanted my help.

Normally, since people frighten me and I don’t know what to do in unorganized social situations I would have been glad to have an OS reinstall to do. This year I didn’t need it as an excuse to flee company, because I was actually happy to see everyone who showed up. I joked to my friend, who had brought his computer up that I felt like I was in high school again—all the polite company is downstairs but he and I were upstairs in the office trying to find a driver for the PCI bus.

But it’s not like I spent the whole time upstairs being anti-social. The hostess came to visit me and brought me beer and let me know when the pies were about to be cut so that I could go back downstairs in time. Other friends arrived with more pies (and tales of bouncing nieces).

I didn’t miss the cooking experience entirely either. I toasted some nuts for a friend of mine and watched and smelled as he made a nice sauce out of them with some wine and garlic. I also admired the bird. I don’t eat turkey or bacon, but a turkey covered in a bacon lattice with rosemary still smells heavenly. The chef is not only a wonderful cook but is also very aware of his wife’s friends’ dietary restrictions (I’m a seafood vegan, another friend is deathly allergic to milk, one of us is likewise allergic to nuts and another has a problem with spices.)

The chef had prepared to make much more food than was needed. When he said “we don’t need the salmon” I pointed out that I would eat it as would another friend. When the other friend arrived she thanked me for being pro-salmon.

Dirty jokes were made. Love lives were discussed. When the time came to eat everything was set on the table. I said that I felt like we needed to say grace. We agreed a toast would do “To Avoiding the Evil God for Another Year and To Good Friends!” Glasses were clinked. We agreed that part of the point of grace was to let people know it was okay to eat. And then we began to pass plates. It’s true we were all hungry and it’s true the chef does good work, but it was like a race to fill one’s plate. “How many brussel sprouts? How many scallops? With or without hollandaise sauce?” “Pass the shallot butter.” “CS Lewis wrote that then there was nothing heard for an hour but ‘pass the salt’ and the clinking of plates.”

Later, a neighbor came to borrow a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine. She knew she could count on us because she had seen me, the hostess and another friend headed back to the house with a 12 pack of Harpoon IPA and said “Hey!” while lifting her harpoon beer bottle to us this summer.

I mentioned to a few friends that this was a better Thanksgiving than we had all previously had together. Perhaps some of it is that we all are grown to be comfortable being ourselves—as opposed to defensive or unsure and we can just eat and drink together.

*not counting last year, when we had Green Cat Day with Indian food, Sondheim and chocolate chip cookies.

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