This column was originally written for Thanksgiving 2013.
Maybe it’s a time-honored American thing, and maybe it’s just a Southern thing. Or maybe it’s just a My Weird Family thing.
I love Thanksgiving, just as I love Christmas, though maybe not quite as much. When I was a little kid we usually had Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house. It was always incredible: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes AND rice (with thick brown gravy, of course), sweet potato casserole, green beans, biscuits, at least two and usually three kinds of dessert … and I’m probably forgetting half of it.
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It was like a super Sunday dinner, which we often had at my grandmother’s house as well.
But it was different from Sunday dinner in two ways. One, Thanksgiving was to Sunday dinner what the World Series is to a whiffleball game. And two, although we always gave thanks — my family had, and has, a lot to be thankful for — Thanksgiving bounty didn’t come with the price of a sermon in front of it.
One way Thanksgiving dinner did resemble routine (if you could call them that) Sunday dinners was in the ritual that followed: The grownups would get up from the table, my grandfather would blaze up one of his burning-socks cigars (if the EPA had been around then, my grandparents’ house would have been declared a Superfund site), and they’d sit around in a dim living room and talk — for hours — about things so boring you wanted to stab yourself with the carving knife. No TV, no music … it was like slow death. If Heaven bore any resemblance to this, then I shared Huck Finn’s apprehensions about it.
Kids, thank God (and that’s sincere thankfulness), didn’t have to be part of this dreadful rite. We could make our escape outside, into the fresh air, throw around a football or baseball, pick up pecans or slide in cardboard boxes down the dry grass on the hill behind the house. That probably sounds as boring as what was going on inside, but it wasn’t. It was actually pretty fun.
Every now and then one of us would have to go inside to get a drink of water or take care of business, and our mummified elders would still be sitting there in the same positions, talking about MeeMaw’s liver or Aunt Boobie’s bad foot, or just emitting occasional stupefied sighs of “Oh, me …” or “Lawd, lawd, lawd …” or other gems from the glossary of Southern after-dinner incoherencies.
I’d get out of there as fast as I could. When it was time to go home, somebody would just have to come outside and get me. I wasn’t going back in there. I’ve never gone back in there.
When I got a little older we’d have Thanksgiving dinner at our house, and Mom would make her traditional Thanksgiving chicken spaghetti. Does that sound good?
Then get either your hearing or your taste buds checked. It wasn’t good. It was awful. It was toxic. (My brother has a perfect description of it, but it isn’t printable.) The only thing “traditional” about it was that once a year we had to pretend to like it. Think Aunt Bee’s pickles.
Meanwhile, we’re silently resenting everybody sitting around other tables having turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and rice and gravy and sweet potato casserole. Hardly a thankful frame of mind, but an honest one.
Parents and grandparents are all gone now, and I miss some of the holiday rituals. (I miss Mom. I don’t miss chicken spaghetti. Ever.)
Now we have our own nuclear family, and our own Thanksgivings. Sometimes we cook and sometimes we go out. This year we’re cooking, and I’m glad. It feels right, for all the work and the cleaning up.
But if anybody expects me to sit around afterward in the Living Room of the Living Dead with MeeMaw’s liver, forget it. Where’s that football?
Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; firstname.lastname@example.org.