The Real Thanksgiving
by Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
The day has just passed where Canadians all bow down to the Great Turkey Gods in celebration of the tasty treat these strangely horrific looking birds provide us. Yet another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Television ads provided us promises of happy times with family, all involving the children laughing and rolling around in the fallen leaves in the backyard, while the grandmothers sat on the deck knitting sweaters from yarn they spent all year saving just for this very moment. The men are inside drinking pre-feast beer while discussing the latest game their favorite sports team just won. The women are in the kitchen making a mound of food large enough to feed a kingdom the size of Canada, all while laughing joyfully at the lack of help they are receiving from their “silly husbands.” Everyone is happy and laughing as though nothing could possibly top this moment… No? Have not seen that ad? While the idea of Thanksgiving is usually one of a completely perfect day spent with family, all fawning over the effortlessly prepared meal, the real Thanksgiving experienced by many families paints a very different picture. It all begins at six in the morning…
The mother’s alarm goes off, the shrill beeping drilling in to her skull like an angry drunk hornet. She hazily opens her eyes. “It’s a Sunday,” she ponders, “why am I waking up so early?” Then it hits her like a 20 pound turkey in the face. It is Thanksgiving! Leaping out of bed, over her husband who is still dead to the world, she throws on her bathrobe and whips down the stairs to the kitchen.
A couple of hours later, the husband finally wakes and stumbles downstairs. He enters the kitchen to grab his morning coffee only to find that apparently a food bomb has gone off in this once pristine cook space. The counter tops are covered with vegetables of all shapes and colors, some he has never seen before, all in various stages of being prepped for their trip to the oven. Potatoes are immaculately peeled and sitting in a pot waiting to be boiled and then mashed into oblivion. Ten loaves of bread are perched precariously next to a bowl larger than a Pilgrim, being shredded into tiny chunks to be combined with sausage meat to create the most heavenly of side dishes. Then finally he spots the beast itself; the pride of this years’ Thanksgiving. The 30 pound organic, grain-fed, fresh and never frozen monstrosity the wife chose, named, and fed by hand two months in advance to ensure they got the perfect meal. The wife handles the giant bird with such expertise and precision, the husband cannot help but marvel at her immense cooking abilities. He thinks to himself with pride, “This is the woman I married.”
Luckily for the wife, her husband has turned and left the room before he had a chance to see the horror that every Thanksgiving cook fears will happen on this holy day. While hastily transferring the turkey into the roaster, the wife slips ever so slightly and almost in slow motion, the bird tumbles to the floor. Juices fly everywhere, stuffing hits the sides of the counter like blood splatters on a battlefield. The fallen comrade slides to a rest at the wife’s feet, her eyes opening wide and her mouth stuck in a silent “oh” of horror. The Turkey Gods are crying out angrily at this blasphemous moment. After a minor heart attack and self-reassurance that the ten-second rule still applies, even to food of this magnitude, the wife scrambles around, attempting to pick up the impossibly slippery animal. “Why did I have to use so much butter and oil on this cursed thing!” the wife chastises herself. Once the wrestling match has ended and the wife has a good strong hold on her opponent, she places the turkey in the roaster, and then into the open, scorching hot oven. She wipes the sweat off from her brow, says a silent prayer, and closes the oven door.
Around noon, the family begins to arrive. The father rounds up his own children, making sure they have dug out the sweaters grandma knit lovingly for them last Christmas, and are wearing them as though they were their most treasured piece of clothing. The doorbell rings as grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family anxiously await the smorgasbord of promised food and fun family times. The husband throws open the door wearing a smile as large as a cornucopia, and stares around at his family, most of whom he has not even talked to since last year. “Uncle Al, how have you been?” “Oh Mom, your new car is fantastic!” “Oh Jane look at the kids! They’re bigger than ever!” All around, the family smiles, comments on how long it has been, and how much they have been looking forward to this joyous day.
Within minutes the kids have run off to their room, dragging their visiting cousins, to brag about their latest video games and the record amount of “noobs” they have killed in cold virtual blood. The grandmothers and aunts wander aimlessly around the house, making comments here and there about design choices and the lack of family photos hanging on the walls. Eventually they make their way to the kitchen where the wife is disheveled and frantic looking, with chunks of potatoes hanging from her as yet unwashed hair. After hugs and air kisses are exchanged the women begrudgingly ask the wife if she needs any help, fearing the answer. The wife shakes her head ferociously back and forth, a bit of the potato flinging out of her hair. She says in an overly sweet voice how she could not even imagine them helping when they are guests in her house. She flaps her dishtowel at them playfully and tells them to go sit in the living room while she prepares some drinks for them to enjoy. The relatives breathe a silent sigh of relief and leave the kitchen smiling to join their husbands in the living room.
After a couple afternoon beers and glasses of wine, the relatives hover anxiously on the back porch waiting for the call to dinner. The grandfathers make comments about their low blood sugar, how they have not eaten all day and they may pass out from the lack of food. An aunt is tipsy from drinking wine on an empty stomach and is leaning against the deck railing with a dazed look on her face. The husband is shaking slightly like an addict waiting for his next fix. It has been hours since anyone has seen the children. Finally, the wife pokes her freshly showered self out from the deck doors and says in a slightly exhausted voice, “dinner is served.”
The feeding frenzy that occurs next can only be compared to a group of sharks finding the last fish in the ocean and fighting for rights to the meal. Everyone from the largest beer-bellied grandpa to the smallest cousin piles their plate as high as the heavens (and then some). They shovel the lusciously prepared food into their mouths without even tasting it. To an outsider peering through the dining room windows it would appear as though the family was in the midst of an eating contest with a million dollar prize. Within half an hour, the plates are cleared from both the second and third helpings. The men have undone their belts and top buttons on their jeans, while the women are secretly wishing they had worn sweat pants instead of their form fitting Sunday dresses. No one says a word about their already bursting bellies, because they know that dessert comes up next.
Once the table has been cleared of the now bare turkey carcass and one lonely brussel sprout, the wife, with dark circles under her eyes, brings out the assortment of pies she had warming in the oven; all different varieties including scrumptious apple, sweet cherry, and of course the holiday favourite, pumpkin pie. The grandmother comments on how lovely they all look, and then innocently asks the wife when on earth she found the time to bake all of these. The wife blushes as she recalls her trip to the grocery store yesterday, and avoids the question, passing a piece of apple pie to her father-in-law, who mutters something about the apples looking mushy. The children begin to get restless as the adults pick away at their dessert. They begin to kick each other under the table and throw scraps of piecrust in every direction. When one rogue piece hits a grandmother in the forehead, the uncles stand up and announce that is the sign that it is time to go.
Hugs and kisses are exchanged at the door as the family members all pull on their now too small coats and say over-enthusiastically how they all need to get together more often, how this was so much fun, and how sorry they are that they cannot stay to help clean up. The wife and husband watch as their relatives waddle to their cars, the aunts and uncles hauling their children who have fallen into a sleep as deep as the pot of mashed potatoes. They wave once more as the relatives reverse down the driveway and away into the night. The wife closes the front door and sighs heavily. The husband gives his wife a quick peck on the cheek. “Great dinner, honey” he mutters as he heads upstairs, with their nearly comatose children dragging behind him.
The wife wanders into the kitchen to examine the damage. Food is smeared everywhere on the countertops, the turkey carcass is laying in the sink like a fallen soldier, the half-eaten pies are still on the dining room table. The wife’s shoulders sag as she turns around and flicks off the light. She will deal with this disaster tomorrow.
Once the wife has dragged herself upstairs with her last remaining amounts of energy, she slips into her comfiest pajamas, leaving her food stained clothing in a pile on the floor, and climbs into bed. Her husband is snoring loudly with the faint smell of turkey and pumpkin pie still lingering on his breath. Staring up at the ceiling the wife allows herself a moment of pleasure and congratulates herself on surviving another Thanksgiving. She closes her eyes with a faint smile on her face. Then it hits her; Christmas is just around the corner.