05 Nov 2010

Taking Thanksgiving Back

17 Comments Family, Personal Crap

It’s November, which has always been my favorite month of the year. Two really cool things happen in November: Thanksgiving, and my birthday. Usually my birthday comes before Thanksgiving, but I like Thanksgiving better than my birthday, which is why I put it first.

This Thanksgiving will mark the seventh one that Russ and I have hosted. You see, Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite of all holidays and I wasn’t happy with the way it was going for a while. So I took it back. I grabbed it from the others who had been hoarding it and proclaimed, “This is MY holiday, chumps!” There was some resistance at first, but then it was as it should be.

Let me take you back a bit. Growing up, Thanksgiving was perfect. Yes, perfect. (I’ve learned in therapy it probably wasn’t perfect, but let me have my memories, okay?) It was perfect. My mom and grandma would spend HOURS in the kitchen doing all kinds of who-knows-what that involved making homemade stuffing that was cooked IN the bird, making side dishes from Heaven, and doing some voodoo magic that made everything taste like Autumn. Sure, there were some fights and stresses. And yes, I had to polish the fucking silver every year. And holy cow did I complain about it! But somehow, everything got on the table when it was time to eat and we had ourselves a perfect Thanksgiving.

There was usually somewhere between eleven and fourteen of us. We would eat and laugh and eat and laugh. Grandpa would tell hilarious stories, we’d constantly comment on the deliciousness, and after dinner we all performed. Someone would sing, my brother would play piano or do something incredibly silly, and I’d do some sort of monologue to make my grandpa giggle until he cried. Then there was dessert and coffee and then it would be over, and I’d be so sad that the best day of the year came to an end. It’s weird because it wasn’t traditional, really. We’d eat late and no one seemed to be too interested in the football. My family was always more into baseball and hockey. It would’ve REALLY been the perfect holiday if the World Series were in November!

There are a few reasons I love Thanksgiving so much: The food. No prayers. No presents. All Thanksgiving is is an excuse to figure out what is good about your life and to celebrate that by shoveling food in your yap.

So, years go by and grandparents pass away, and dynamics change and my brother gets married. Now, all of a sudden, we’re eating with my sister-in-law’s family. Our quaint holiday turned into a 27-person melee that didn’t resemble anything I was familiar with. Our first Thanksgiving together, Russ and I were at a card table in the corner, wondering how late the coffee shop stayed open so we could go have a peaceful meal. Plus, dinner started close to 8:00 PM, which just seemed preposterous. This went on for five years until Russ and I couldn’t take it anymore. Our favorite holiday needed a resurrection, and we were just the people to do it.

Seven years ago I called my parents and told them we would no longer be joining in the foolishness of the over-crowded Thanksgiving. (By the way, I love my sis-in-law’s family. I just missed my holiday). I told them Russ and I would be having a traditional Thanksgiving at our house at 4:00PM and that they, and any of the family, were welcome. I was met with much anger. “It’s not for YOU to decide where Thanksgiving is!” Yes it is. “How dare you break up the family like that!” I told you everyone is welcome. “Well, you KNOW Bob and Karen won’t be able to come!” Maybe they’ll come next year. They can trade off between our Thanksgiving and theirs. “I think you’re being very selfish!” I am. It feels great.

A couple hours later, my mom called me back and apologized. She actually said, “I’m so proud of you for standing up for what you want for yourself and your family. I would never have had the balls to do it. I raised you right.” Then she told me she and my father would join us, and we could work out the rest later. I did it. I took Thanksgiving back. This was going to be fantastic.

And it was. That year Russ and I started our tradition of spending the day cooking together, laughing together, and stressing together. We make all the old favorites and I have it scheduled out to the minute, when the turkey goes in, when the potatoes start, what time to roast the garlic. I make the turkey, stuffing (boxed with a lot of veggies and love added), pumpkin fritters, green-bean casserole, and biscuits (frozen). Russ makes the mashed potatoes and White Trash Krab Salad. At 4:00, whoever shows up is sitting and eating and laughing and talking. We make enough so that the next day I can make a giant turkey, stuffing, peas, and mashed potato casserole for anyone who wants to come over.

This year will be rough. Thanksgiving was my Daddy’s favorite holiday, too. I loved that he loved Russ’ Krab salad so much. He was so proud of me for doing it my way. He was so happy to be around his close family. This year I turn 39 two days before Thanksgiving, and yet I’ll still feel like a giddy little girl when we sit down to eat. I’ll be grateful for so many things. And I’ll also be profoundly sad. But I’ll get to laugh and cry and shovel food in my face at my own dining room table, because seven years ago I took Thanksgiving back. This is the Thanksgiving Garrett is growing up with. And I think that’s what I’m most thankful for.


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Lisa Arch likes being a working actress... but LOVES being a Mom!
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17 Responses to “Taking Thanksgiving Back”

  1. Reply Christine says:

    I love that you reclaimed Thanksgiving. I think that’s fan-fucking-tastic. I soooo miss my Thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving I grew up with. The Italian Thanksgiving that started at 2pm with drinks and antipasto, led to a macaroni course, either lasagna or baked ziti, then when we were already too stuffed, the turkey, crispy skinned and moist to the bone, was marched into the dining room by my mom and carved at the table by my dad. Sides were simple, baked yams, stuffing cooked in the bird, string beans that I snapped the ends off of early that morning, and cranberry sauce straight out of the can sliced into perfect rounds. Then desserts: cannoli, sfogliatelle, eclairs and napoleons, rice pie, wheat pie, apple pie and pop’s sweet potato pie. Then espresso with sambucca, and later chestnuts, both boiled and roasted, and fruit and nuts and dates and finoccia (aka anise or fennel) to act as a digestive after all that food. Italian Thanksgivings are long, and they are loud. We laughed and told stories and sang songs and played guitars and clapped our hands. It was amazing and I miss it terribly.

    Once I married my Irish husband, Italian Thankgiving ceased to be. I was not allowed to prepare thanksgiving, because neither my mom or my MIL were prepared to give it up. So we take turns. One year at my mom’s and the next at my MIL’s. My mom has grown older and is too tired to prepare such a feast. Now it is more about memories of how it used to be, and memories of the people who used to dine with us but have been called home to God’s table. And my MIL hosts a Thanksgiving that, while perfectly acceptable to my husband, is just not my Thanksgiving and feels wrong. I smile my way through the mini hot dogs in crescent dough and the pickle and olive platter and the turkey so dry that it shreds and has to be covered in lumpy brown gravy and the canned corn and the frozen peas with pearl onions. I do love her stuffing, and will eat an entire plate of it and steal teh rest for thanksgiving sandwiches the next day. And her desserts are pumpkin pie (yuck) and mincemeat pie (double yuck.)

    I want to give my Kate the Thanksgiving I was raised with. And now that my house is clean and organized, I just might grow the balls to do it. Maybe I can get my mom to make a lasagna. And aaybe I can get Bill to play the guitar with my dad and we can sing and laugh and clap our hands. And maybe, although its probably wishful thinking, I can get Kate to snap the ends off the fresh string beans. and of course I would make Pop’s sweet potato pie for dessert.

    Or maybe I should leave the memories where they are, and allow Kate to find her own special moments, like the extra drumsticks that my mom makes so everyone can have one, or the ice cream and m&ms tha my MIL always has handy because Kate is not a fan of either pumpkin or mincemeat.

    I guess as long as we remember to be Thankful for whatever meal we eat and the loved ones we share it with, it doesn’t much matter what house, what table or what menu make up the day. But I sure would like a chance to have my mom’s Thanksgiving again, not just in my heart and my memories, but for real, to give Kate a glimse into my childhood and my traditions.

    • Reply flawlessmom says:

      DO IT! Just once, do it. Ask if you can have next Thanksgiving! You have to!!! It sounds so awesome, and I bet it’d make your mom smile to come help you cook the traditional Italian feast, no? I SAY YES!!!

  2. Reply flawlessmom says:

    I just realized I left out the one thing I do the BEST… GRAVY!!!! I make some damn good homemade gravy with broth I make from the neck and gizzards of the dang ORGANIC, free-range 24 pound turkey I buy every year, plus the drippings! I had to tell you, because you now know I use boxed stuffing and frozen biscuits. Phew. I feel better. Oh, I also enjoy the shit out of canned cranberry sauce. Whole Foods makes the BEST with no crap in it. And now I’m really done.

    • Reply Meri says:

      You are kidding yourself if you think you can talk about gravy like that and not share a recipe or at least instructions!

      Some of the best stuffing I have ever had came from a doctored box, and frozen biscuits are gifts from God. Someday you should try jarred lingonberry sauce instead of cranberry sauce…or in addition to it. It is also amazing on chicken sandwiches!

      • Reply flawlessmom says:

        OMG! I will absolutely give it to you! I might post our whole Thanksgiving menu and schedule. Just wondering if that’d be weird. If not, in the next couple days I’ll post the gravy recipe. SO EASY! Where does one get jarred lingonberry sauce? I LOVE trying new things like that. Yummy!

      • Reply flawlessmom says:

        New Thanksgiving post up, with the gravy recipe! Let me know what you think!

  3. Reply Sherry says:

    Good for you for taking it back and creating wonderful memories! I always have Thanksgiving at my house, but I always have to do it according to everyone else’s schedule. Last year I told everyone when I was having dinner and that they would be welcome to join us at the time I stated. It’s less stressful now and so wonderful. This year I’m playing hooky and my son and I are going to Disneyland! Woo hoo! Hubby is staying home with the dog. Don’t feel bad for him because I’m usually the one who stays home with the dog while hubby and son go on vacation. This will be my first vacation to their several vacations. No one to leave dog with and hubby is very protective of our dog. Big time dog lover 🙂

  4. Reply @LeslieSColeman says:

    Lisa, I LOVE this! I have friends who did the same thing once they had their first child. I’m sure you can relate to everyone wanting to see the new baby at THEIR place for the holidays – well, my friends faced the prospect of driving 6 hours during Thanksgiving Day to make the rounds with their baby, and decided to put their foot down and invite everyone to their house. Sure, they caught some flack for it, but it made things a heck of a lot easier.

    • Reply flawlessmom says:

      Flack schmack! There are certain times in life to sacrifice and certain times to be selfish. I think if you pick your battles correctly, people understand. And if they don’t, sometimes it’s better to not care!! 😉

  5. Reply Koch says:

    There are no decent Thanksgiving holiday specials. The Peanuts one is okay, but… you should film this post as a Lisa Arch Thanksgiving special. It REALLY puts you right there where we all would like to belong.

    And for the Love of God, PLEASE, next time I’m over, call something you do a “table-scape”,

  6. Reply Ange says:

    What about thanks giving in my end we have nothing scabby aussies lol
    Ah but enjoy!!! 😉

  7. Reply AL says:

    OK People! Canned cranberry sauce is NOT acceptable! Making your own is SO simple and SO delicious that you will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER eat anything that comes out of a can again! (Although the lingonberry stuff is pretty good..very tart)

    The Italian feast sounds fabulous, I hope it is attempted again, it has many, many layers of culture and so many memories…I say go for it!.

    My first Thanksgiving was on my own. My mother has passed on the year before and we didn’t have any family close enough to come to our little tin house in Ashland. So, I called my Grandmother and she talked me through the basics, I had the families recipes for side dishes and desserts…and it turned out…pretty good. We were both students, not much money to spare, but we made it work.

    The one thing my husband insisted on was REAL cranberry sauce…I had never heard of ANYONE making thier own sauce…the jellied type was all we had ever had on our table…..I’m not even sure I had ever seen anything else!

    Well……I made my first batch….and I’m hooked. We make it for each holiday now, even Easter to compliment the (pardon me) ham. Just get a couple bags of Ocean Spray (or bulk organics if they are available) wash them well under running water, sort out the few soft, squishy berries, remove the few stems that may be lurking about and add the whole thing into a kettle which has a small amount of boiling water (simple syrup type) which has had sugar dissolved. The bags will give you the amounts. Bring the water back to a boil, stirring the berries, lowering the heat to a healthy simmer. Stir every few minutes; watching for the berries to begin to burst.
    Once this is happening, you can add frozen or fresh raspberries and a few squiggles of orange or lemon zest or slivers of rind. (I always add raspberries!)

    The beauty of this is to make it well ahead of time…it even freezes beautifully if you have leftovers (never happens in this family) I normally make it the week before and let it live in the refrigerator until time to serve.

    The amount of sugar is to taste, but don’t skimp to save calories on this one. By making the sauce beforehand, tasting it after it has spent a day in the refrig, the sugar will have mellowed the tartness (is that a word?) I have been known to add a little white Karo afterwards, if the sause is still a bit too tart.

    Whatever you do….try making your own cranberry sauce, it is beautiful and delicious!

    • Reply flawlessmom says:

      Well SHOOT, AL! Now I feel like I HAVE to! Tell you what, I’ll do it since I can make it so far in advance. And I’ll get a couple of cans just in case! I shall call my cranberry sauce, “Aunt Linda’s Cranberry Delight”! (Please don’t yell at me about the stuffing and biscuits. I can only do so much.)

  8. Reply Robb says:

    Lisa, what the hell do you mean… “It’s weird because it wasn’t traditional…” — OF COURSE IT WAS TRADITIONAL!! IT WAS YOUR FAMILY’S TRADITION!! – It WAS (and still is ) PERFECT!! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… AND KUDOS on taking it back!

    And Just like you my BF and I – did the same – We took back thanksgiving – especially after my Dad passed – and Mom loves it – the three of us cooking in the kitchen – and anyone who wants to show up is more than welcome at our table – not driving 2 hours on Turkey day to my one brother’s in southern NJ – or an north hour to “Hooterville”(think Petticoat Junction) to eat “stove-top” with my sister and her step kids or share “fish” (yes I said fish for Thanksgiving) with my other brother’s in laws from New Orleans…

    We make good old fashioned Turkey with sausage stuffing cooked in the bird,
    Mash Potatoes – Sweet Potato casserole with Pineapple and Crunchy Corn Flake Topping – Fresh Green Beans – and frozen biscuits… our tradition and a tradition that’s perfect for us.

    Hold On To Those Traditions – Don’t Worry If it not like anyone else – It’s Yours and It’s PERFECT


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