I really like Thanksgiving dinner. And if you’re cooking one, I’d appreciate an invitation-otherwise it’s Wang’s Chinese for my family.
It’s not that I can’t cook—I just don’t do it very well. I realized this the other day when I overheard my five-year-old daughter assure her friend that I can cook “lots of things,” such as—and this is a complete list—“hog dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese, tomato soup and chicken nuggets.”
There’s just so much pressure to make Thanksgiving dinner something out of the ordinary. This is a fancy meal, disguised as a holiday. Mashed potatoes get garlicked and rosemarried, cranberries get jellied and turkeys get dressed (yet somehow remain completely naked). And then there’s all that stress about burning the biscuits or giving Aunt Edna salmonella, when really that’s the only thing that’s going to stop her from telling pilgrim-themed knock-knock jokes.
Here’s what I know: Holidays + Food + Family = The Perfect Storm. Something will inevitably go wrong. For my grandma, it wasn’t just “something”; it was everything my mom cooked. The turkey was dry, the Jell-O salad wasn’t set, and the gravy would alternate between too hot or cold, lumpy or runny. I actually liked everything my mom made with the exception of her stuffing. (I do not want to eat anything cooked in the chest cavity of a turkey, least of all stale bread.) Grandma herself wasn’t exactly an Iron Chef. The only things I remember her making me were deviled ham sandwiches—a.k.a. Satan’s cat food. But the way she criticized my mother’s cooking would make Gordon Ramsey blush. It made Mom cry. It made Dad mad. He took it out on the turkey with an electric carving knife, hacking and sawing like a madman. Bits of turkey flew around the room like meat confetti.
“I told you it’s too dry,” Grandma said.
As I plucked turkey shrapnel from my hair, Grandma sipped a glass of wine and eventually forgot about the gravy—at least until next year. We sat down together as a family and enjoyed a wonderful feast.
And so went Thanksgiving for most of my childhood.
I wouldn’t trade those holidays for anything. They taught me to take the holidays in stride. My friend teared up when she set fire to her sweet potato casserole, but I assured her that I like my marshmallows well done. I happily ate it, carcinogens and all. See, I’ve slurped up mom’s un-set Jell-O salad and I’ve moisturized dried-up turkey in a gravy bath. I’ve seen it all. A sweet potato pie that tasted more potato than sweet. A turkey frying turned turkey mummification. I don’t care if your pre-made crust is burnt or if your canned corn is chewy. I only care that I get my Thanksgiving dinner—and that I don’t have to make it.
I know you all have Thanksgiving horror stories tucked away like your favorite pair of granny panties you can’t part with because however embarrassing they may look, they are comfortable. Familiar. Yours.
So I encourage you to share your stories here—wear those granny panties with pride. Maybe doing so will keep us from taking Thanksgiving—and ourselves—too seriously.