As Thanksgiving rears its conflicting smallpox and stuffing-laden head next week, I have a confession: I’ve been married four years and have yet to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal. Let me explain before you start typing furiously about me abandoning my wifely duties.
Thanksgiving is the Olympics of meal preparation. You train all year, slipping in a sweet potato pie here, a batch of spicy collard greens there, packing mac-and-cheese to bring to a potluck, or brushing up on your rump roast mid-July. You prepare for November’s bragging rights, to become the stuff(ing) of legends, the one known to put her whole foot in it.
I learned how to cook Thanksgiving dinner from my mother. We would rotate staying up all night on Thanksgiving Eve every year, basting “Tom” with butter and sprinkling ground sage on his naked bum. No recipe books or measuring cups; we cooked by sight and by taste. We charted our way through the memories of past dinners nibble by nibble, asking each others’ opinion on tang, spiciness, saltiness, sweetness. I learned a pinch of something can restore balance to the universe.
When I got married, my Thanksgiving experience changed, by necessity. The rotation of visits on all sides of a couple’s family is crucial to maintain a sense of fairness…and to prevent kvetching. If you visit one family tree two years in a row, be prepared to hear complaints from the neglected side: “We never see you!” So we switch it up yearly and enjoy his entire extended family or mine. I pitch in and cook where I’m able to; it doesn’t feel right otherwise.
Four years’ worth of rotations later, I have yet to host the holiday dinner at my place. I have my reasons.
For one, growing up and moving away from most of your immediate family means that someone has to be able to travel. And every working person wants to have the days adjacent to Thanksgiving off. Unfortunately, that’s not easy for me, and I have been stuck working the day before and after the holiday for two consecutive years.
Also, it is a tad gauche to ask folk to chip in for Thanksgiving, the holiday of bounty and do-drop-ins for dinner. And you better not side-eye anyone wrapping a plate to take home. But, real talk, who pays for all that food? For young families on limited budgets (like mine), the thought of financially bearing the burden of dinner for 30+ people is terrifying. No one wants to be the house that runs out of food. But no one wants to go broke over Thanksgiving, either.
Third on my list is a superficial, but no less concerning, reason. We bought our home two years ago and have yet to furnish it with the aplomb that it deserves. Hosting large dinner parties can be difficult without proper seating. Where will Grandma, Grandpa, Aunties, Uncles, Mom, Dad, babies, and cousins all sit? I panic.
Finally, Tom Turkey intimidates the cluck out of me. I have never cooked the turkey by myself and I’m scared now that my mother’s training wheels are off. So I plan to start small. One year, we will go nowhere and invite no one. I will buy a small turkey and lovingly baste that bad bird into succulence. Then, after my big turkey graduation is complete, I can trust myself to feed the extended family horde.
My misgivings on Thanksgiving have more to do with my ambivalence on being a full-fledged adult than how my family will perceive me. With my generation often moving back home or unemployed, when is that we take over to become the adults our elders now are? When do our homes evolve to being the House Everyone Goes to For Thanksgiving? Is it when we have enough money to foot the bill? Is it when we can furnish enough couches for the fam to watch football on?
Or is it when, once we’ve perfected the creaminess of that mac-and-cheese recipe, we can’t bear to keep our cooking to ourselves any longer? All of the above. But give me about two more years; I’m definitely coming for Aunt Sonya’s bragging rights.
How will you spend Thanksgiving?