Growing up, Thanksgiving was always sort of a big deal. My mother always invited over the holiday orphans, so a small dinner would consist of about ten people while our largest capped out at forty-five. It was the one time of year that we were guaranteed to have fresh veggies instead of frozen, real mashed potatoes instead of the type that start as flakes in a box. She made stuffing from scratch – one batch with sausage and oysters, and another with only oysters, “for the vegetarians!” my mother always said, though really it was for our friend Allayne who didn’t eat red meat.
My mother woke up at six in the morning every forth Thursday in November, and most other days as well, but she made a point to tell people about the Thanksgiving thing. That way she could slowly prepare things and take a break at nine to watch the Macy’s Day parade with me and my father. It was the only television we ever watched on Thanksgiving. After the parade wrapped up my she would go back to cooking and ordering me around the kitchen. I peeled potatoes, I topped and tailed green beans, I emptied her ash trays and made fresh iced tea. Sometimes, like the year we had forty-five guests, I ran out for last minute extra food. She always wanted to make sure there was more than enough food for everyone.
At six or so the guests would arrive with wine and beer and various side dishes. While my parents entertained I mashed potatoes with too much butter and cream then waited for dinner to start. When everything was set out my mother would stick a frozen pie or two in the oven and watch as people dug in. It was always buffet style with people squeezing in wherever they could and usually eating off their laps. My mother would sit at the head of the table smoking and chatting, but never eating. She was thrilled by watching people happily consume things she had prepared but was so sick of looking at the meal after twelve hours that she couldn’t stomach it. When the pie came out she would eat a slice of apple with cheddar cheese with everyone. Later on, when everyone had left, she would make a little plate for herself and eat it slowly, or wait until morning and prepare a leftover feast for one. When I was a teenager the day after Thanksgiving was also reserved for my mostly male friends to descend like locusts and clean out the fridge.
I was twenty years old the first time I spent Thanksgiving away from home. I was in Portland, Oregon visiting a friend and she took me to her friend’s parent’s house. Because the holiday had always been so important I remember feeling strange spending it with another family. I’d never had an afternoon Thanksgiving before. I’d never seen football on Thanksgiving before. I awkwardly insisted on making the mashed potatoes because I felt out of place not helping, then was confused and upset that they only had a potato ricer and not just a regular masher.
After getting over my initial weirdness, it ended up being an incredibly nice holiday. The food was delicious and we left full and happy in the early evening. My mother was fine back in New York. She still had her orphans and my friends still went over the next day to eat leftovers and hang out.
In the intervening years she sold her big house in the West Village, so the parties became smaller just because they had to. As my friends got older and started having Thanksgivings of their own they would invite my mother. This alleviated her from forty years of hosting duties and made it easier for me to be away again when the time came.
Our first Thanksgiving on the road was spent surrounded by absurd amounts of family. We spent Thanksgiving Day at Kyle’s Aunt’s house with cousins and friends and a ton of food. The following Saturday we were off to Kyle’s Mom’s with all his siblings, his father and his father’s new wife. It was there that I had deep fried turkey for the first time and honestly, why would you eat it any other way? Turkey is far and away the least desirable fowl, but it is downright scrumptious when fried.
Last year was a bit less traditional. We were rushing back to the East Coast to return a rental car after Designer Con and ended up eating at a Waffle House for the first time. It had a typed sign on the door explaining that smoking was now only allowed on weekends and hoping that it didn’t cause any inconveniences. There were a couple of truck drivers playing board games inside and, all things considered, it wasn’t a bad Thanksgiving.
After last year I realized that Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey, it’s about who you’re with. So this year Kyle and I went to see Coco (pro-tip get there half an hour late because that Frozen short is absolute trash) and then headed to Dave and Busters. We had some cards from our last visit with a ton of tickets on them, so we traded the points in for some nachos and had a great night.
The point is, Thanksgiving is whatever you make it. Next year, when we’re not nomads anymore, I’m probably going to make a pork shoulder or a ham. As long as you’re spending time with people you like, isn’t that what’s important? Who knows? Maybe we’ll just spend it at Dave and Busters again.