I just love Thanksgiving don’t you? It’s all just about a great meal with those you love. You don’t have to buy presents, you don’t have to go to church, hell,you don’t even have to get dressed up at all. I hear straight men sit around watching football all day.
I’m getting ready for our annual Thanksgiving “orphans dinner” We have many friends like us who don’t have family in Los Angeles or who (I would say very smartly) choose to not be with their families. I’m buying flowers at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, ironing linens, washing little used serving platters & reminiscing while my house looks like a soundstage.
I was remembering today a Thanksgiving in 1978 with my family in Pennsylvania. I was 15 years old. I think I can pin-point this date as the exact day I realized I was “different”
It was the first year my Mother was cooking and playing hostess. Her Mother; who had always taken care of the Holidays, had died of breast cancer at the age of 60 earlier in the year. My Grandmother was a fantastic cook. She earned her living AND her place in heaven by cooking for the priests in a local seminary. Her only child, my mother …not so much. But by God, she was determined we would have the day exactly as if Gram Mom were still here.
So there we were: the seven Trainer children, my parents & my newly widowed Pop Pop. There was the usual heavy tension that comes from having 10 people crammed into a 3 bedroom suburban house. Maybe a small fistfight or two between the boys & some yelling from the small kitchen as my Mother attempted to recreate her mother’s decades of successful holidays. Soon dinner was about ready & My Mom was calling us to the table.
I had of course arranged the flowers with the mums that were growing in our yard. I had also folded the napkins into this “Prince of Wales Feathers” style I saw in a magazine & had placed all the forks one & a half inches from the rim of the table! As my mother was still yelling: “DINNER’S READY!!” I looked at the table to realize to my horror, something VITAL was missing. “Where are the candles? I asked. “CANDLES??” My incredulous mother queried. “”We have plenty of light…we don’t need candles!” “Candles are not about light…we’re NOT READING at the table….they’re about CHARM & AMBIENCE!” (Both new words for me!) I replied. “I’ll be right back!” I shouted. I had just gotten my learner’s permit to drive. And illegally unaccompanied; my first mission would be to find an open store on Thanksgiving Day; in small town PA, where I could get some candles.
After several false starts I found an open 7/11! Sure enough they had what I thought (then) were some terrific orange tapers with faux wax horns-of -plenty attached…Just the thing. I raced back & when I returned home I could see (and hear) my Mother was still calling everyone to the table (something called OVERTIME!) I placed my new purchase in some old candle sticks & was justifiably proud of my accomplishment.
The dinner was a complete disaster! My Mom, in her Freshman effort, had so overcooked the turkey it fell soupily from the bone and had overcooked the stuffing so that it was mainly burnt.. We ended up having to eat the turkey with a spoon & having to CARVE the stuffing!
As we all sat grumbling & complaining aloud; my Pop Pop looked up at my Mom & said in his most serious voice: “I think it’s DELCIOUS!” at which point he began to cry. And then my Mother started crying, and then we all; my Dad & my six siblings; all started to cry. It was just no good. It wasn’t the ingredients, or the food, or the chef…it was that my Gram Mom wasn’t there & nothing would ever be the same again!
And that was the year I asked myself: ”What’s It All about, Alfie?” When your peers are watching football or trying to smoke some weed while their parents prepare a dinner with their cousins whom they hate…why are you thinking about place settings & CANDLES???
I think we all now KNOW the answer. That’s what I was thinking about today with 2 days left til Thanksgiving.