This is Us



The holidays are coming. Tortured by thoughts of place settings, pumpkin mousse, and home-made cranberry sauce, I lie awake night after night.  Insomnia traditionally starts this week and lasts until January 2.  I will sleep soundly the night of the 2nd.

But until then, I revisit holidays past, obsess about holidays present, and try to come up with a plan to avoid holidays future.  A friend goes to Paris every year for Thanksgiving but until I retire from my perpetual unemployment, I will have to stay home.

Thanksgiving 2016.  I am late.  I am driving to my newly married sister’s home.  My cell phone rings.

“What are you wearing?” my sister-in-law asks.

“What? Why?” I say.

“It might get ruined.”

“Why?”

“There was a fire. But don’t worry, your husband put it out with a fire extinguisher.  The turkey looks okay.”

“Wait, Doug’s there?” I asked.

He runs a road race on Thanksgiving every year. Some years he doesn’t show up until 2-3:00. The race takes him 30 minutes and starts at 10:00.  But 10,000 people also run the road race and it takes a really long time to get a beer.  A lot longer than the race. And he’s not leaving without a beer.

“Yeah, he got here about an hour ago.”

Now, saying I hate Thanksgiving might be a stretch.  But I do not like it much.  I like Easter.  I like Easter baskets.  I like making Easter baskets.

used to like it when we would go to Nyack, New York to my mother’s parents for Thanksgiving.  I liked how my grandmother made gravy in a cast iron pan by first browning the flour.  I liked that we ate dinner on a table that used to be a door.  I also liked the smell of the bathroom.  Prell shampoo. It was very distinctive.  I liked that they let us bring our cat, Poco. Nothing says Thanksgiving like a three-hour car ride with four kids and a cat in a Volkswagon bug. This is Us could have been written by us.

I have tried it all.  Going out to dinner for Thanksgiving.  Going to the casino on Thanksgiving.  I’ve ordered whole Thanksgiving dinners.  I’ve spent a few in Switzerland- those were good ones.  Most of the guests were from other countries, so expectations were non-existent and no one was related. All I really had to do was obsess over a dessert and bring a folding chair.

“Okay, so what happened to the turkey?” I said.

“The brown bag caught fire because the turkey dripping overflowed,” she said.  I am thinking about my turkey roaster. It’s three inches deep.  That is a lot of drippings.

“What brown bag?” I said.  Still confused.

“The brown bag the turkey was in.”

“The turkey was in a bag?” I am wondering how big the bag and how big the turkey was.

I also missed my exit.

“Yes! Just get here.” Click.

I got there. The stove was immaculate.  The last of the foam from the fire extinguisher having been just wiped away.  The turkey was on the counter. It did look okay. However, my sister’s eyes were red from crying.

I served a turkey raw once (just once).  Cooking turkeys is an obscene amount of stress.  Turkey, fifty pounds of mashed potatoes, boiling cranberries, pies.  and matching napkins.

Getting dressed (you and the turkey), setting the table. Guests arriving late. Guests arriving early.  Family who speak. Family who doesn’t. Families who think you should speak.

There is a reason there are 1800 numbers on everything holiday related.  Though my friend Rich cut through all the bullshit when he got divorced. He lets the kids decide the meal. Wings and taquitos made everyone happy.

Thanksgiving may have been celebrated by the Pilgrims and some Indians but it was Sarah Hale, the one who wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb, who really got the ball rolling.  After the Civil War, she saw a nation divided and thought a national holiday everyone could celebrate would help with the healing.  She started a petition, hounded a few politicians, Lincoln saw it her way, and it became a thing in 1863.

I unpack the things I’d brought.  Except for electricity, the house looked as it might in Colonial America.  Period antiques, silver, candles.  President Lincoln and Sarah Hale could be coming to dinner. Dinner was served and the conversation turned to traveling. At least at my table of four, it did. It was so civilized.  I have no idea what the teens were guffawing about.

And that’s when I heard about Clover, the cat.  An untimely demise hours before dinner, she was lying in repose in another room.  Viewing was strictly limited though.  Unlike the monk lying in repose at the monastery in Einseideln, Switerzland. That really took me by surprise.

This year I have invited everyone here.  Some have declined citing a craving for Chinese food, some are hedging their bets hoping for a better offer.  But others will be here.  I will be here.  Drop by.  You don’t have to bring anything but a sense of humor. Just for fun, we can call all the 1800 numbers and take the cat for a ride in the car.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jennifer Dziekan
Jennifer lives in New England with her husband and three children. She spent four of her college years in Maine and loves Corea, Maine more than chocolate cake. A former ex-pat, she spent three years living in Switzerland where she made sense of her experience by writing about it. A background in education, she has written for Grown and Flown and is a contributing writer for Mothering Matters, an online magazine based in Switzerland. More of her blog can be found at Weaving In and Out.
Jennifer Dziekan

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