All week people have been telling me their Thanksgiving plans, and most people seem to be dreading them. One friend has to drive some four hours in the dark the night before to spend it with an aunt. Another has to fly home and cope with a sister and a fiancé that his parents hate. Someone else tells me how grateful they are that the much-hated daughter-in-law will not be there. Various people have in-laws and siblings and nephews and nieces descending like plagues of locusts. It all reminds me of Sartre's assertion that hell is other people. I wonder why Thanksgiving is so much more difficult - or at least it seems that way to me - than other holidays, and I realize that because all you have to focus on is each other, and the food. Christmas brings the added stress - and distraction - of presents. The Fourth of July means barbecuing outside and splashing around in the pool and, after night falls, fireworks. At Thanksgiving there's just you, your family, and that damn bird.
Yet I think it is my favorite holiday. How can it not be? It is all about the food, and moreover, all about the food I never eat the rest of the year: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy - the gravy is the most important of all - and stuffing. Pie is immaterial, because we never had pie when I was growing up. (Although homemade pumpkin pie is the food of the gods). I wonder if I am more nostalgic about the past, if I imbue it with a warmth and happiness that didn't actually exist, because my own family is an ocean away and I can choose to join friends who have invited me, for a dinner I didn't have to cook. Perhaps things were harder when I had to plan a meal and run to Whole Foods at 9 pm the night before and to the Pike Place Market at rush hour and more stressful when I had to produce dinner in a kitchen shared with my mother who got mad if I talked to her when she was cooking.
D. has invited me, as usual. It is the quietest and smallest holiday dinner I have ever had at her house, thirteen or fourteen people. (The loudest members of the family are traveling in Hong Kong, and when they are here the decibel level is much higher). For the first time everyone is seated at one table (actually, two put together) in the kitchen instead of the usual grownups in the kitchen, kids in the dining room. In the absence of her older sister J. makes the mashed potatoes, standing on a stool to wield the masher (she is eleven). The boys - there are four of them - prefer prime rib to turkey, so we have both. R. brings a vast pan of stuffing; I have made a creamy spinach gratin that T. finishes in her own kitchen two houses away and brings back to the table, the cheesy crust crisp and dark gold against the green-and-white of the spinach and béchamel. The table is quiet - relatively speaking - as everyone makes their way (so to speak) from one end of the table to the other, passing plates back and forth. I thought I had restrained myself rather well. But then it was time for dessert.
T. is bustling around making berry shortcakes. From somewhere pies appear, pumpkin and apple and one very small pecan pie that are all slipped into the oven to warm. I have a warm berry shortcake, a small piece of pumpkin pie, and an even smaller piece of pecan pie. That last bite of pecan pie just about kills me, and I stagger upstairs to collapse on the futon before I can make it to my car and drive home. Another year gone, another Thanksgiving past.