As I write this blog, I’m waiting on dinner to come out of the oven. I’m relying on a meal hyped up by the food editors of Southern Living, the same people who have warned me that Thanksgiving is coming. This is the time of year that requires me to make an important decision:
Am I cooking or am I having it catered?
I don’t know why a woman’s job includes being the Family Holiday Coordinator. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to be in charge of other people’s festive happiness, and it requires an exhausting amount of preparation from October through January — a time that should be spent with family as opposed to for family. Thanksgiving dinner is the trophy meal of the year — the one that simply can’t be ruined or rescheduled. It’s on, people. It’s on!
Growing up, my mother made every single Thanksgiving meal that I can remember, except for the year she was angry with me for getting married (that’s another story saved for another time). Since I moved out and moved on, in her opinion, my mother declared her house CLOSED. Thanksgiving dinner? You can find that at Southern Kitchen.
And we did. And my mother quietly hated every minute of it. Five of us were crammed into a faded red booth, ordering the special of the evening advertised on a handwritten sign by the cash register. I tried to pretend that my mother’s semi-peaceful protest didn’t affect me, but the truth is, it was the worst holiday ever recorded. But when we saw a friend walk in alone — unaccompanied by her adult children and permanently separated from her husband who had just passed away — my mother announced that we should have been at home. Thanksgiving should be spent at home.
A few years later, the task of bringing Thanksgiving to the table was handed down to me when my mother was too sick to eat, much less cook. I was determined to make her last supper as perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting, and I delivered. It was important to me to make sure my mother’s favorite holiday was honored, but also to prove to her that I had paid attention all of those years that she stood in the kitchen while everyone else sat on the couch.
However, I did a little too good of a job. From that year on, Thanksgiving belonged to me. So here we are — more than a decade later — and I want to quit.
Why? Because I set unreasonable expectations for myself and others. Celebrity chefs lecture me on what a real turkey is supposed to taste like. Home decorators show me what an inviting atmosphere should look like. Television psychologists remind me of what a holiday should feel like.
It feels…frustrating. Sure it’s funny now, but year after year, the same things happen:
1) I live at the grocery store 48-hours before the big day, worried that I won’t be able to find sage for the herb dressing.
2) I poke and prod my frozen fowl, fearing it won’t thaw in time, which always leads to a water bath in the kitchen sink. The turkey is always larger than my kitchen sink.
3) The headcount for dinner changes each day leading up to the main event. I have to rent banquet tables and chairs from a party supply store because I don’t have enough space in my dining room.
4) I pray for my 35-year-old Westinghouse oven, which stopped working temporarily on November 22, 2007. Heating elements are necessary for this type of production.
5) I miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I also miss the hour of Broadway performers singing and dancing at Herald’s Square.
6) My kitchen turns into a war zone and I declare the space behind the counter hostile territory. Yet, everyone wants to lean in to watch what I’m doing…and offer advice.
7) At the exact moment the turkey pops its thermometer, someone gets the bright idea to take a group walk to make room for “all that food Kat’s got going over there.” And they leave.
8 ) When I announce that dinner is served — at 4:00 on the dot — everyone freezes. No one moves. They all stand and stare at me. “Well?! Go! Sit! EAT!”
9) After men, women and children play a round of musical chairs, the dishes are passed from one person to the next. This is the moment that my children announce they aren’t hungry. They ate too much Chex Mix.
10) At 4:20 p.m., it’s all over.
Friends shake their heads at me when I describe my to-do list and projected outcomes. Wouldn’t it be easier to call Honey Baked Ham Company? Ask everyone to bring a dish to share? Wouldn’t it be easier to set up a buffet instead of place settings for 10? Wouldn’t it be easier to serve lunch instead of dinner so the rest of the day can enjoyed?
Probably. But I feel as though I owe it to my mother, a true Southern cook who wouldn’t have allowed anyone to bring the meal to her (except, of course, when her daughter got married). Despite my moaning and groaning, I want my children to have memories of family holidays, some of which have rivaled National Lampoon’s. I want them to look back on this one day of the year and know they were well loved and well fed.
Yes, they can count on me to give them the bird.