NOVEMBER 23, 2017 (previously printed in The Kansas City Star)
Happy belated Thanksgiving. Are you still wearing your favorite elastic waist-banded garment? It’s amazing I used to only own one stretchy pair of poultry pants, saved for the last two months of every year, because now the majority of my closet is filled with various shades and fabrics of turkey trousers.
Normal Thanksgiving dinners growing up consisted of thawing the biggest turkey in the shop for days, waking up at an ungodly hour to turn on the oven and ensure the stuffing hadn’t fallen out of the bird overnight.
For years, it was an intimate affair with our immediate family and one set of grandparents. Never were my parents plucky enough to have the in-laws breaking bread on the same day and at the same location.
Everyone brought a side dish or five, praying that hers would be a success. However, you wouldn’t know if your dish received the four-star rating until the next year, when, and if, you were invited for Thanksgiving and asked to bring it again.
Back then, many of the same family members would join my small family of four, but all it took was one slight change of the guest list to start our annual Thanksgiving “guest swap” rolling. That’s when the holiday became a competitive sport with no holds barred.
The Thanksgiving that changed our polite formal dinner was when I was 9 or 10 years old. The past dining room table had always been covered with a table cloth, our family’s best china, the real silver, and the crystal glasses that only my mother could transport in and out of the kitchen and hand wash.
We didn’t mind, though, because no one wanted to see her break down and cry; plus, our normal chore of drying the dishes was held off that one day of the year.
As a fourth-grader, I remember when my mother, who is the queen of thinking outside the box, was trying to place enough chairs around our table. Her brother’s wife, her large family, and a priest were to caravan from Nebraska.
None of us were Catholic, but we knew deep down we should step up our formal dinner. I mean, how often do you get to have your first supper with clergy?
If we were entertaining a priest just once, my mother was classy enough to know cramped seating would be a sin. It was time to remove the net and cover the ping-pong table with butcher paper. Fancy living was about to commence.
Everyone had a fabulous time at that Thanksgiving, leaving a big impression on us all. Why should such a creative and giving family be thankful for our typical small family guest list? Since our population wasn’t increasing anytime soon, my parents pulled out the old address book and searched for friends who were alone on that holiday.
If they had impressive culinary skills, they were a shoo-in. “Let’s invite people we work with! I know short Margy makes a mean Jell-O mold.”
One year while I was in college, my parents wanted to shake up the list even more. They invited my brother and me into a room nonchalantly to mention they were crossing themselves off the list. We thumped both sides of our heads to dislodge the object, which had blocked our hearing.
Why on earth would our parents, who treasured family Thanksgivings, say they were deserting us? … The Maui Classic.
Yes, college basketball finally destroyed our family. OK, it could have happened, but instead my brother and I pretended we weren’t devastated by the news.
Over a few hoppy beverages on the back porch, we engineered a solid plan that would make the parents jealous. It’s funny thinking back that they would have wanted to choose our silly dinner over Hawaii, but we were young and pretty full of ourselves.
That Thanksgiving, we woke up to a quiet house, and before the crack of dawn I prepped a smallish bird with all the fixings for two. This was the beginning of our family-themed holidays. My brother and I enjoyed a fine dinner complete with crazy costumes, props, and framed photos of our parents placed in front of their empty seats.
If only we had thought to open the old address book, we could have thrown quite a bash while the folks were gone.