I don't love Thanksgiving. For the longest time, I've been really ambivalent about it. It could be because very early memories of the holiday are vague. Thanksgiving has always felt like a waiting room kind of holiday to me. You know, kind of a space you go to that's pleasant enough, but not awfully memorable, and soon all the festivity of Christmas bounds out and drags you in. Even Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Thanksgiving-morning tradition, is focused really more on Christmas than it is on Thanksgiving.
I've always liked the Day After Thanksgiving better, the Weekend After Thanksgiving better. I like the leftovers from Thanksgiving a lot more than the Real Meal. Give me a no-pressure cold turkey sandwich and a slice of pumpkin pie any day over a mounded-up food-coma plate.
I know that sounds kind of curmudgeonly, or maybe even ungrateful. I don't mean to be either of those things. It's just that the history of me and Thanksgiving is fraught with illness and ambivalence. In the early years, I think the ambivalence came from recognizing, even as a little kid, that Thanksgiving had self-esteem issues and kind of wished it was Christmas. It was fun to get together with everybody for the day, and eat and stuff, but boy, wasn't it more fun to map out our Deer Season shopping trip to the Arnot Mall? (When I was a kid, we got the first day of Buck Season and the first day of Doe Season off from school!) By virtue of the time of year, I usually had a cold on Thanksgiving, so even though I was the beneficiary of some very good cooks on Thanksgiving, most years, I remember everything tasting kind of bland, the way things taste when your nose is all stuffed up, and if Grandma Jeanette caught wind of me not feeling well at all, I got to chase my Thanksgiving meal with a mug of Onion Syrup. It was an appalling concoction for a little kid. Now that I'm grown up, I'll make myself Onion Syrup if I feel a cold coming on, provided I have onions and sugar on hand. I've come to like Onion Syrup, and it's even better with a little whiskey in it, but Grandma wouldn't like my modification to her recipe.
The first year I got REALLY SICK on Thanksgiving was when I was in seventh grade. I'd come home from school early on that Tuesday, with a bad cold, aches and pains, fever, kind of rebounded on the Wednesday, causing my mother to wonder why she'd kept me home that day, and then Thanksgiving morning, I just felt like crap. It was the year we took our Thanksgiving to a damn restaurant- the Antlers in Gaines- It was a fine restaurant, and I guess even on that Thanksgiving, the food was wonderful, but I remember not wanting to even look at the buffet, and getting mad at the lobster bisque I did choose, in its pastry shell. In the car on the way home, I remember Mom commenting that they had to pay full price for 12-year-old me, and I didn't eat enough to stick in a bird's eye, but my sister, three and a quarter years younger, got to eat on the kids' buffet price and put enough away for both of us.
Colleen, if I didn't say it then, I'll say it now. Thanks for having my back at Thanksgiving 1990 and eating enough for both of us so Mom and Dad wouldn't be so mad about paying full price for me when I just picked at my food. (To this day, I cannot look at pecan pie. I just can't!)
By Monday morning, when Colleen, Mom, Grandma Evans and I were supposed to be going to the Arnot Mall for the cherished ritual of shopping on the first day of deer season, Grandma and a sullen Colleen stayed home while Mom took me to see Dr. Davis. Holy crap, he said I had the walking pneumonia, and didn't need to be thinking about going shopping, because I wouldn't even be going to school for the rest of the week.
I ended up not going to school the whole entire following week, too. I returned to school the day after the first day of Doe Season. And I have to say, junior high felt like a weird planet to me, coming back after so long away. I almost felt like a New Kid, as alien as I felt. Except instead of being the exotic new girl, I was still pain-in-the-ass April to all my classmates, so pretty much nothing changed.
Through high school, at least I managed to keep the viruses down to run-of-the-mill colds on Thanksgiving.
In college, Thanksgiving became a bigger deal to me, sort of. At my school, Susquehanna University, they made a Big Deal out of Thanksgiving dinner. The Thursday night before actual Thanksgiving, the cafeteria would deck itself out. We students would dress in our best, go to reserved seating in the cafeteria, and our professors would serve us Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Any departure from baked ziti and rice pilaf was reason to get All Excited, and it really was always a fun night. Like everything else about my years at Susquehanna, I really do get all mushy and nostalgic for Thanksgiving Dinner Night.
But. Junior year, the entire month of November, I was plagued by this cold that wouldn't go away. I even lost my voice for a few days (my professors were SO HAPPY not to have my smart assiness verbalized!) and the rest of the days, I sounded raspy and hoarse. By the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when campus shut down, though, I'd sort of rebounded. It was a 70-degree day in Selinsgrove, and I remember cheerfully reporting to my grandparents, who came to pick me up for that break in my pre-car era, that I was glad to be on the mend from that awful cold I'd had!
Funny how when you declare victory on a virus, it comes back and bludgeons you. The next day, Dad and I were getting hoagies from our favorite place in town, and we were standing there, debating whether to get the hot pepper spread on them or not, when I felt achiness start in my toes, go into my ankles and calves, my knees, my thighs and hips, each vertebra, the joints in my fingers, my wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck. We got the hot pepper spread on the hoagies, and I ate half a roast beef for lunch, because it was there, but by the time we got home, I just wanted to curl up under three thick blankets and ignore the chicken soup Mom heated up for me for dinner that night. First thing the next morning, I was at the ER at Jones Memorial Hospital with a high fever. The diagnosis was sinusitis, the treatment was the first Z-pack I've ever experienced. I spent that Thanksgiving asleep in front of Grandpy and Grandma's over-stoked woodstove, wishing that there was a way I could actually lie on top of it, without burning my skin all up.
In graduate school, there was always drama surrounding the holiday, because Shane and I would make the four-hour trip up from Philadelphia, cram ourselves in at my parent's house with just the one bathroom, and then ping-pong back and forth across the countryside from my family's Thanksgiving to his family's Thanksgiving, tired and overfull, and of course I'd bring out a decade's worth (at that point- now there's nearly TWO decades' worth) of resentments at feeling Not Quite Welcome at at least one of those overtired and cranky Thanksgiving dinners.
Since we've been back in our Homeland, Thanksgiving has been fraught with drama. We'd still try to make everybody happy, hobo-holidaying it, going from one meal to the other, and in the end, nobody was happy, especially not us, especially when already-poisoned waters were churned up, old wounds were reopened, and new batches of poison dumped in. In a last-ditch attempt, we hosted BOTH sides of the family at our big house on the hill. Twenty-four people. Enough drama to power the soap opera network for a week, all concentrated into 1200 square feet and one day. I'm still trying to figure out why, after we saw how things went the first year, we went back for a second and third helping of all that. But at least we had our health!
Then came Thanksgiving Twenty-Ten. We were just hosting my side of the family, plus my brother-in-law's parents. A nice, small, ten-person, one-dog Thanksgiving. And it was going so well. I'd done all the prep work ahead of time, I had everything all lined up and ready to go (that, I'd learned from the previous three nightmares), and I got up early enough to get everything done, so I wouldn't have to be all stressed out and scrambling, still, when everybody got here. But when I was putting on my makeup, I said to Shane that I had only peripheral vision. I couldn't see out of the middle of my eyes, which made putting on my makeup a challenge! He went into Doctor Mode, checking for signs of stroke. Other than not being able to see out of my central vision, I felt fine, so we went about our day.
Rime ice was hitting the windows. The deck was covered in the stuff as I got out the turkey. I remember the smell of it turning my stomach. It was unbearable, rubbing the butter over the turkey and getting it seasoned up and in the oven, but I thought it was just because I was over-hungry. Once we got the turkey in the oven, I fixed myself a piece of toast and one of my latte bowls of coffee, with milk, and sat down in front of the Thanksgiving Day parade to watch it through my peripheral vision, which now had little worms of light crawling through it. I'd started feeling cold, but convinced myself that it was because ice was pelting the windows. Shane had just gone into the downstairs bathroom when I picked up my coffee and caught an acrid smell in it. Whether it was real or imaginary, that smell, it doesn't matter. My molars started sweating. Shane was in the downstairs bathroom. Our bathroom was all the way upstairs and down the hall! This wasn't going to be a good situation, no matter what I did, so I threw off my blanket and for the only time in my life, took our stairs two at a time and sprinted down the hall to our bathroom and hurled and hurled. And bawled and bawled, because my head was in more pain than it'd ever been in, and I had all that stuff to do still, for Thanksgiving- it was all prepped and ready to go, but it wasn't going to get done if I was bedridden or having a stroke or a spell or whatever was going on.
I've always been high-strung, and Shane condescendingly chalked it up to me being stressed out over having "everybody" here for Thanksgiving. No, it wasn't that. Compared to the previous three years, this was a piece of cake! Ewwwww. Cake. And also, the coffee pods I'd used that morning were two years out-of-date. Soon as I could get up again, I'd have to hoe those out and pitch 'em! Surely that was what was making me sick. That didn't account for the weirdness with my vision from earlier, which had returned to normal during my purge-session. Weird.
Shane took care of the rest of Thanksgiving prep, including running the sweeper. He gave me a few analgesics that doctors know are okay to mix together in the right doses, made me take them with a sip of my Coke from the night before, and made me lie down and have a nap, still blaming all this on high-strungness. And just as everybody was getting to our house, I felt better. No, I felt Better. And Thanksgiving was fun, and we all laughed about my strange eyesight earlier in the day, and my Episode, having to lie down like some fragile Victorian woman, crumbling under all the stress. Ha. As it turns out, all of that craziness was the proto-Zoe manifesting herself.
That was apparently the end of us hosting Thanksgiving, but we've also done our last hobo-holiday. And I will say that last Thanksgiving was the most fun I've had at Thanksgiving in a long time. I'm even looking forward to next Thursday and the Thanksgiving it's going to bring. It's just that a lifetime's worth of Thanksgiving Meh-mories just doesn't go away. They haunt and hover at the edges. But now that Zoe's here, maybe it's like a fresh start. I want Zoe to have fun memories of the holiday, and not meh-mories. And I think that's completely possible!