Lack of civility at a family gathering only demonstrates that person's lack of theology and geometry.
-- Attributed to Ignatius J. Reilly
There comes a time in a man's life where he must wake up and smell the coffee, see how the sausage is really made and learn the harsh truth about Thanksgiving. Underneath all the turkey, pecan pie and green bean casserole lies an undeniable theological and geometric truth: Thanksgiving is a battlefield, and it's every man for himself.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was easy. My mother was an excellent cook and would produce a dazzling array of traditional holiday foods. I had to dress up for the meal, which usually meant putting on a new sweater that was a color and style no growing boy would pick for himself. (That should have been a harbinger of things to come. But I digress.) My father would do the ritual of carving the turkey, and I would always ask for one of the drumsticks. Life was good -- but soon that would all change.
I had just gotten married, so this would be my first Thanksgiving as part of an extended family. My wife's family and mine both lived in the same town. We lived about a three-hour drive away. So as Thanksgiving approached, I thought naively that we could simply have two holiday meals: one at noon and the other in the evening. Tradition is a harsh mistress, and I learned that quickly. My wife's family always had their meal at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and saw no good reason to change. My mom typically started her meal at 4 p.m. Take it or leave it, we were politely told. After all, it's Thanksgiving.
I was in a real dilemma. My wife's mother was just an average cook. My mom, on the other hand, could really put out the spread. What to do? I strategized with my wife. We would go to her family's meal first and just graze, then head over to my mom's house to do the serious eating. Alas, my mathematical calculations would soon be exposed as faulty.
The plan went awry immediately when, seeing all that delicious, albeit under-seasoned, food, I dove right in. Soon my grazing was replaced by complete deforestation. Next, making the short drive to my mom's house, I saw that she decided to serve her meal at 3:30 instead, obviously to teach me a hard lesson about decision making. Due to the overflow of family, we were seated at a card table -- the one where growing up I demonstrated a capacity for the game of "Risk." Now I shared it with two young kids I didn't know who filled their plates with nothing but sweet-potato casserole.
Despite my bulging stomach, I was overcome by past holiday meal nostalgia and recommenced the overmentioned deforestation to later gastrointestinal calamity. The meal climaxed when my mother asked loudly from the adult table whose meal was better: my mother-in-law's or hers? As a famous philosopher once noted: With the breakdown of the medieval system, the gods of chaos, lunacy and bad taste gained ascendancy. This dinner only proved that.
And the next year? Well, when Fortuna spins you downward (and your stomach outwards), you go out and buy your own turkey. It's all about tradition.
NAN Our Town on 11/28/2019