Since my parents are European immigrants, Thanksgiving was never a big deal at our house. My father despises turkey, indeed so much so that I suspect he's created out-of-country "emergencies" in order to excuse himself from any event planned around the detested fowl. When my brother and I were little, my parents didn't bother with the traditional meal at all.
I remember observing, at the age of four, when we were invited to someone's "real American Thanksgiving," that the women worked all day while the men sat on their butts in front of the television. Even at that tender age, I could understand my mother's lack of enthusiasm for staging such a production.
Then I went to first grade. The day before the holiday weekend, my classmates and I donned construction paper hats reminiscent of the Wampanoag tribe and those badly dressed religious wing nuts commonly known as The Pilgrims. Then we went around the room and said what special foods we would eat the next day.
"Apple pie. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Turkey. Turkey. Turkey. Squash."
My turn was upon me.
"I don't know. Probably spaghetti." I stared down at my desk, certain I'd given a wrong answer when shocked murmurs filled the air.
Later that afternoon our teacher, Mrs. G, who had gotten the wrong idea in her head, endeavored to provide my mom with a bird. After that my parents fell in line with the national mandate to serve turkey every fourth Thursday of November.
As I will be doing next week. I don't have any great affinity for the holiday, although I totally appreciate that for millions of exhausted, leisure starved American workers, it's one of the few sacrosanct days left on the calendar. That fact alone is reason to celebrate.
But if I don't get misty just thinking about the smell of pumpkin pie, why would I want to host Thanksgiving?
Because R. comes from a long line of Connecticut Yankees, which means the Grape does too. I suppose I can make one attempt a year to embrace their culture. And frankly, I would so much rather cook than schlep.
Thanksgiving has always been amateur day at the airport. The delays caused by clueless people who seemingly have never flown before may have been tolerable a decade ago, when air travel was still marginally civilized. In this age of filthy, packed, beverage free planes, the masses and their larger than regulation carry ons, contraband toenail clippers and leaky fruit pies become too much to bear.
And there's almost nothing I loathe more than driving, even under the best of circumstances.
The Grape, on the other hand, loves car transportation. For precisely fifty-four minutes. That's his maximum, although an additional fifteen minutes of calm can be purchased with a donut. You don't get very far in less than an hour and a half on the busiest travel day of the year. My reluctance to schlep is further compounded by the fact that it's difficult to secure a pet sitter over a holiday weekend.
So I will cook gladly. And I won't just roast a bird and lob the more labor intensive sides off on my guests. I figure they're doing the distasteful part by schlepping. I can provide the food and wine.
Though in preparing to do so, I've learned a few things about Thanksgiving. It seems that many people frown on creative additions to the standard holiday menu. They like to know what they're getting. When I suggested an antipasti tray, R. looked at me as if I'd suggested he decapitate the bird himself, on our patio. Ditto for the raw oysters.
I've also realized that when you host a dinner party of this magnitude, a certain amount of advance procurement needs to happen. The Grape and I conducted an inventory the other day and discovered we own six place mats and no table cloth. This is because, when I got married in my twenties, I lacked the maturity and gravitas for the institution. As evidenced by the fact that I registered for martini, cognac and margarita service for twelve, while ignoring the linens situation entirely.
Despite my extensive glassware reserves, my household has managed to break a decent amount of glass in recent years. So on Wednesday the Grape and I set out on a shopping expedition. (Note: Next time you can't find a salesperson to help you, go stand in the middle of a stemware display with a two-year-old and start touching the merchandise. At least three associates will stampede to your side.)
Now that we've acquired the necessary infrastructure to host the holiday, I can move on to finalizing a menu traditional enough to pass 13th generation American muster, but interesting enough to be worth cooking.
And while I'm at it, would it be so wrong to include a side dish of spaghetti?