November 22, 5:22 p.m. I have already changed into flannel pajamas and slippers, thus proclaiming that I have no intention of leaving my hotel room tonight. I sip chardonnay from a drinking glass, munch baked potato chips, and luxuriate in the twin blessings of silence and indolence.
Because, nearly unique among American women (and many men), my Thanksgiving preparations are finished.
These preparations consisted of the following:
Broach the topic of getting takeout for Thanksgiving dinner. I did this a few weeks back, once it became clear that I would not be settled into my home by the holiday. I told Mom about a wonderful place here in town, Gideon’s BBQ Smokehouse, that makes excellent pulled pork. Since she loves pulled pork, but rarely has it since Dad doesn’t, she was interested, albeit cautious about Dad’s response. (His first reaction: pulled pork didn’t sound very “Thanksgiving.” I responded that anything you serve on Thanksgiving is “Thanksgiving.”) I also noted that since my younger sister likes to make desserts, she could handle that end while I brought the main meal, and we’d be all set. If there’s anything my mother likes, it’s hearing that she doesn’t have to cook anything, so at that point, we were on solid ground.
Work the logistics. Mom suggested emailing my younger sister, who is also a fan of pulled pork and who promptly responded that it sounded good to her. I printed the menu from Gideon’s site and mailed it to my parents for their perusal. I chatted with the guys at Gideon’s to see when they would need our order, if it came to pass. I reminded Mom that they also have St. Louis ribs (the guys had even shown me a half-rack and explained the difference between these and babyback ribs).
Place the order. The day came when Mom called to say that they’d gone over the menu, and Dad was in. A few days later, she called with the precise order. The next day, as I was returning to the hotel from my house, I stopped in at Gideon’s and asked a few questions, such as, “How big is a large container of garlic mashed potatoes?” Once I had all the information, I placed the order: pulled pork, ribs, burnt ends, garlic mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, sauteed corn, maple-glazed carrots, cornbread. Hardly a classic New England Thanksgiving, to be sure. The whole thing took about ten minutes.
Pick up the order. This afternoon, once again en route from house to hotel, I stopped at Gideon’s to pick up the order. Turns out that I’d told them I’d be in at 5:00, not 3:45. Luckily, they are adaptable fellows. I settled in at a table and read stories online, and about twenty minutes later, everything was ready. We went over instructions for reheating, and the gentleman helped me carry everything to the car. Back at the hotel, I transferred everything from car to refrigerator (remembering to wrap the cornbread containers—yes, the entire container—in plastic wrap to keep that delicious cornbread moist), and I changed into flannel pjs and poured the wine.
At which point I declared my Thanksgiving preparations finished.
Granted, it’s not a Norman Rockwell painting. But that’s actually okay. It’s possible to have non-Rockwellian traditions and still have a perfectly lovely day. One couple I know routinely travels from West Hartford to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (home of the Rockwell museum, by the by), for Thanksgiving dinner with friends who come down from Toronto; the only people slaving over a hot stove in that case are the kitchen employees. (I’ve eaten at the Red Lion, and I can assure you that the meal they’re having is excellent, regardless of what they’re ordering.) One year, my parents and I went to a local restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner (long story), and I recall clearly how incredibly relaxing it was not to have to juggle everything from who needed the microwave next for whatever they’d brought to what time the perpetually-late relatives were really going to show up.
Of course, sometimes stressors can become the stuff of legend. One of the most memorable Thanksgivings in our family history was the year my parents had invited their next-door neighbors, Sally and Peter, as well as my cousin and her family. In the course of cooking the turkey, the oven decided it had worked long enough, and some vital piece of heat-making equipment failed. Needless to say, this discovery was met with great consternation. As my father, neighbor Peter, and my cousin’s husband tried to figure out what to do, Sally and I took the turkey out of the oven and transported it to her working oven next door before the men realized we were gone. Dinner was delicious, no one was poisoned by a turkey with such uneven cooking, and none of us have ever forgotten that year.
Don’t misunderstand me: traditional Thanksgivings can be wonderful. I have come to believe, however, that they are not for everyone. For many, a non-traditional Thanksgiving would be far more enjoyable, be it takeout, dining out, or some other choice.
Some people adore spending days whipping up a major feast; others would prefer to have their toenails pulled out by pliers. It bears noting that many who want a traditional feast are not the ones charged with producing it, which means (in my opinion) that their vote should count at about one tenth of the votes of those who will have to do the menu planning, shopping, cooking, and (often) transporting. Many of the people who are going to perform the latter tasks are also trying to juggle jobs, child care, and the general running of the household. Some are dealing with above-and-beyond things, such as overseeing and coordinating contractors, insurance adjusters, and all the other elements that will eventually work together to get them back into their soot-and-smoke-damaged homes. (Just saying) Others, like a dear friend of mine, are spending this holiday with a loved one in hospice who couldn’t eat the feast even if she were willing to spend hours away from his bedside preparing it, which she’s not because she understands what matters. Still others would love to stay home, but family demands require them to sally forth.
There have been years when I’ve spent Thanksgiving Eve baking pies, roasting chickens, and/or preparing side dishes that I’m desperately hoping someone will like. I don’t regret doing all that, but I don’t miss it, either. As I’ve written this, the level in the wine glass has fallen, and the potato chip bag is nearly empty. In a bowl of water on my tiny hotel kitchen counter, shrimp are thawing so that I can use them in the pasta I will prepare for dinner on my two-burner stove instead of ordering in (because there’s no way I’m going out on the night that is second only to New Year’s Eve for crowds). When I finish this simple meal, I will have an evening free for calling friends, reading, streaming “The Newsroom,” or watching DVDs of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” What I will not be doing is stressing about creating a Rockwellian Thanksgiving, because the holiday is not about the menu. It’s about remembering to give thanks for what and who we’ve been blessed to have. And if we celebrate it with ribs and pulled pork, that’s fine.
I suspect that Norman would approve.