I suppose my first real holiday here was Halloween, and it was definitely fun. I actually went to more parties here than I usually did back home, and I had a nice time. People do things a bit differently over here, but for me Halloween really does just involve pumpkin carving (check), candy (check), costumes (check) and, as I’ve gotten older, alcohol (check). So I missed certain types of candy, but overall it was a good one.
Now things are a bit more challenging. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. For many people, it’s a day to spend with relatives. Growing up, it was the one time of year when my sister and I saw all of our aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. We’d head down to Southern California (often missing school for a couple of days) and go to Disneyland on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was just reminded of that when I saw a post by a friend on Facebook, who is down there now. I grew up thinking there were no lines at Disneyland. We rarely had to wait more than five, maybe ten minutes to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, or Space Mountain. It was usually just the four of us for that day of fun at the Happiest Place on Earth.
On Thanksgiving we’d head over to the home where my dad’s parents lived. But only after we saw a movie. I vividly remember seeing My Girl at a movie theatre that I believe was attached to a mall. Man, I did not see the whole Macaulay Culkin death thing coming. Anyway, one of my aunts lives in that house now. Another of my aunts would make really yummy pumpkin bread. There were the five younger cousins (me, two guys my age, and two girls about four years younger than me) and the four older. We got along, but we didn’t (and still don’t) really know each other well. After all, we only got together once a year. One of my uncles (by marriage, and a favorite) would generally hide in the kitchen after dinner, doing dishes. My grandpa would sit in his easy chair, drinking scotch, telling me I was full of mud. Ha. It’s kind of amazing how really clear these images are.
Some time in the 90s – probably around when my sister went away to college – we stopped heading down there for the holiday. Instead, just the four of us would prepare the meal (a turkey breast, since none of us eats dark meat), but always after going to a movie first. And people wonder how I can go see a movie once or twice a week – obviously it’s in my genes.
Once I graduated college Thanksgiving became more of a holiday about second families. My first year out of college I went to Omaha to spend it with my then-boyfriend’s family. We’d been together for many years, and I knew a lot of his family, but it was still so strange to be away from my family. And the food! It was good, but I missed those dishes that were, not unique to my family, but that we always had. Our Thanksgiving was never over the top, but it was always good. Great mashed potatoes (I may have actually cried one year when we realized, the day after Thanksgiving, that we’d left the potatoes in the oven, thus eliminating the possibility of leftovers), stove top stuffing, and damn it, the cranberry sauce from the can, with the indentations on the sides.
I think my parents spent every Thanksgiving during the past eight years with their really good friends, and a second family to all of us. But that’s the family that lost the patriarch to brain cancer this year, and my folks will be spending their time closer to home with another set of close friends tomorrow. And my sister – she has always seemed to find great places to eat, and will send me the menu every once in awhile to rub in all the amazing food she’s going to have.
After that first Thanksgiving away, the holiday became more of an adventure for me. I spent my first NYC Thanksgiving with that same former boyfriend, at an “orphan’s” Thanksgiving in Williamsburgh. My first experience making pumpkin pie! The next was with Allegra and her extended family in Pittsburgh. Then outside Baltimore with another ex’s family. There was a memorable one with Richard, my British friend who had to work Friday as well, where we went to Junior’s in Brooklyn for our surprisingly good dinner.
For the last three years I’ve spent the holiday with my NYC family. Herman and Kathleen have hosted an amazing dinner for all of us who don’t have family nearby, or can’t travel because of working the next day. Meg brings the yams with marshmallows (and makes a vegetarian version sans marshmallows as well), Kathleen makes the corn pudding. Erin threatens to bring Brussels sprouts, I make a few desserts. Herman prepares an AMAZING turkey, often the size of a small child. Last year, after too much food and as we got ready to go, they brought out a bunch of Tupperware so everyone could take home some leftovers. That’s thoughtful.
Tomorrow they are getting together to continue the tradition, and I won’t be with them. It definitely makes me a little sad. Well, a lot sad, actually. But tonight I got to start my own Thanksgiving adventure. I got lost but eventually found a real supermarket and managed to get a 13 pound turkey, which my friend Alissa is going to prepare tomorrow for some Americans, a Canadian, two Italians, and possibly a German. I still have to figure out a crust and tin for my pumpkin pie, and I can’t make fudge as there’s no marshmallow fluff, but it’ll be okay. It’s another adventure. And it’s definitely already a memorable one.