Everybody’s Thanksgiving expectations and experiences are different—yet the same. I was looking at this Norman Rockwell painting and wondering how many of us have ever had such a Thanksgiving. Thinking about how odd it was that even though that painting does not resemble any of my Thanksgivings, it still produced a twinge of nostalgia in me.
At the same time, it made me feel like a voyeur peering in at some vaguely alien scene: Who are these people? What are they thinking? Is that really a turkey, or the last dodo?
It got me to wondering what other people’s Thanksgivings are like, which made me think that you might be wondering the same thing. If so, here’s a preview of what my tomorrow will look like.
(Warning: This might be one of my most boring posts ever!)
Mary and I will be driving through a (probable) snowstorm to my cousin Bill’s house. He and his wife, Sherrie, have volunteered to host the Hautman Thanksgiving celebration this year. There will be about forty of us—three or four survivors from the eldest generation, maybe two dozen of us baby boomers, a few younger adults, a few teens. No babies or toddlers this year—my parents' generation was notoriously fecund, we baby boomers have been more circumspect, and the young ones have yet to breed.
There will be nearly as many dishes as there are people. Our Thanksgiving is a loosely organized potluck. There will be turkey, of course. Possibly two. There will be venison and ham and maybe a few ducks (we have several hunters in the family). There will be sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and “dressing.” There will be cranberry something, assorted salads (including Charlie's broccoli salad), appetizers, at least one green bean dish, a mystery dish (Put some on your plate, taste it, turn to the person next to you and ask, “What am I eating?”), and plenty of beverages—cousin Tom will bring his award-winning home-vinted apple wine, and there will be a dozen or more assorted bottles of commercial wines—everything from proseco to reisling to pinot to cabernet—some plonky, some divine, depending on who brought it. There will be beer and soft drinks. There will be coffee.
The food will be excellent. Some dishes will be fantastic. There are several talented, adventuresome cooks in the family, and the quality of the viands improves every year. But our Thanksgiving is not really about the food.
It’s not about saying thank you, either. There will be no invocations, no toasts, no prayers. That practice disappeared when my generation reached adulthood back in the 1970s, and my parents and aunts and uncles realized that ninety percent of their offspring had no interest whatsoever in organized religion. It might be more like ninety-five percent—I’m not sure.
With so many people involved, there is no way this can be a “traditional” sit-down dinner—no carefully planned courses, no wine pairings, and no beautiful table setting. It will be a scattered and disorganized buffet, with people sitting wherever they can find a space—a card table, the sofa, the floor.
Although the food will be good, most of it will hardly be tasted, because everybody will be talking between (and during) mouthfuls. Our Thanksgiving is about seeing each other, catching up, making contact. I will see relatives I haven’t seen since last Thanksgiving, and I might meet an "orphan" or two—cousins' friends who happen to be in town.
What do we talk about? It would be easier to say what we don’t talk about. We don’t talk about politics much. Or religion. Not because we actively avoid those topics, but because most of us simply aren't that interested. In all the Hautman Thanksgivings I’ve been to, I don’t recall any serious arguments. No shouting, no fistfights, no shocking revelations. When I hear stories about other peoples' pyrotechnic Thanksgiving dinners I feel somewhat drama-deprived. Perhaps we have a dark, seething, river of decay running just beneath the surface, and our apparent civility is a desperate form of denial. There are indications of such pestilence, certainly—we have our share of family secrets, feuds, and embarrassments—but for some reason these things do not, thankfully, come up at Thanksgiving.
There will be a few serious conversations fitted between the jokes and laughter, but most interactions will be brief and superficial. That’s a good thing. I have just as many flat-out irritating relatives as anybody else. I may be one of the more irritating ones. Still I enjoy seeing them all.
Do I love Thanksgiving? As much as I look forward to it, I’m always relieved when it’s over. We’ll get there mid-afternoon, talk and drink a bit, start eating around five, and by six I’ll have talked to everybody for a moment or two, at least, and I’ll be working on my exit plan.
That’s it. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!