This, as long-time friends would soon know without aid of this silly preface, is a repeat. I always publish this one during my last time at work before taking the entirety of Thanksgiving week off. If you've seen it before, feel free to skip to the end and leave a generic polite comment. If you do that, though, you'll miss the extremely slight re-writing I've done concerning the Detroit Lions, the New England Patriots, and this year's entirely dispiriting developments concerning retail stores opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.
In going over this piece looking for bits to tighten up, I found My Grandma was specifically mentioned once in a way that would have made it sound as though she was still with us bodily, which she isn't. It would have been awkwardly dishonest to leave her name there, so I excised it. Her spirit, however, will always remain, and the other spots wherein she appears (in a photo, and in the pleasant little story concerning a Dane and some turnip) remain, as they should.
OK, that's enough new material. On with the turkey rehash!
THE BEST DAY OF THE YEAR
fris‧son / Pronunciation [free-sohn; Fr. free-sawn]
a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006)
Let me tell you about the holiday I like best of all – Thanksgiving.
I like all holidays. Any day you get off from work, or during which people get together to celebrate, or when you get (or give) gifts? In my book, that’s a good day. Some days are more special than others, though.
Christmas used to be my favorite. When I was a kid, I went straight from one frisson to another during the week leading up to Christmas. The celebration of Christ’s birth was magical and there was no end to the ways that the world delighted me. As I’ve grown older, that magic has ebbed. I haven’t changed, though; it’s the world that has.
When I was a child, nearly every house in the neighborhood sported pastel lights of red, yellow, green, blue and orange, either as decoration outside or via a candle or two in the windows. The streets were bathed in an embracing warmth, a welcoming glow. Nowadays, the lights of choice are mostly cold; icicles and clear starbursts. I guess a lot of folks like them – otherwise, why would they have them? - but all they do for me is make the night streets too much like daytime. Those bright white lights don’t do anything but remind me of how cold it is in winter. The colorful lights of my childhood made me feel warm, even during the meanest of snowstorms.
I love Christmas music. I always have. I always looked forward to it beginning, sporadically, after Thanksgiving, and then building bit by bit until there was an entire glorious day and night of it from Christmas Eve through to Christmas Night. It played on the radio all day, but only all day on Christmas and most of the day before. In the morning, while opening presents with my Mom and Dad, we played the two or three vinyl Christmas records we had at home. It was special.
Now the trouble is in trying to avoid it. Even as of today, November 16th, there have been radio stations playing Christmas music 24 hours a day for the past couple of weeks. Seriously - and I mean this - if you like that sort of thing, God bless you. To me, though, Christmas music is like chocolate. A few pieces, rich and creamy, are delightful. Feed it to me non-stop for sixty days? All that is, is a sick stomach.
(My job, as good as it is, doesn’t help matters. I’m a voice-over guy, and I also do production work, but my actual job title is “Music Director”. Therefore, in the course of my duties, I sometimes have to use holiday music for background in pieces I complete for clients during September and October. I try to remain detached while doing so, but...)
The final nail in my Christmas coffin is driven in by the greedy merchants who just plain don't have the common decency to wait for Thanksgiving to be over before they start spewing forth their hideous advertisements. Every year, they start earlier and earlier. I rail against it every year, too. MY WIFE tells me to relax, that I can’t change it, that there really isn’t anything all that bad about it. I love MY WIFE dearly, but on this she’s dead wrong. I’ll go to my grave cursing those bastards for draining the innocent joy out of a lovely day. I try to ignore it, and I try to keep the spirit I believe in, but they keep throwing haymakers at me and a few do connect. I keep getting up off the canvas, but it isn't easy. And this year has been more difficult than any before it. Stores are opening in great numbers on Thanksgiving Day rather than having the decency to wait until so-called Black Friday. I think I may stay on the canvas this time and take the count. I'm amazingly tired of fighting it.
Christmas still has charm. The real importance of it, for someone like me, is spiritual, and the sons of bitches can’t rip that out of me unless I let them. The people I share the day with, and with whom I eat good food and exchange lovely and loving gifts, are dear to me. They still make it a wonderful day, but that frisson I spoke of earlier, that I used to have in multiples during the season, hasn’t been felt in quite a while.
The only holiday I can always count upon to deliver a frisson is Thanksgiving.
(I’m trying to set the world record for frisson mentions in one blog. Am I there yet?)
I have never had a bad Thanksgiving. Not one. As a matter of fact, not only have I not had a bad one; I’ve had nothing but good ones for as long as I can remember.
For every other holiday, I can dredge up at least one bummer. There have been New Years Eves with toothaches and New Years Days with hangovers, Washington’s Birthdays with flu, Memorial Days with sunburns, July Fourths with car accidents, Labor Days with the dread of returning to school, Halloweens with stolen candy, and even Christmases with “Dear John” letters thrown into the mix, but never a bad Thanksgiving.
(I’m hoping I’m not the victim of selective memory. Somewhere in the past there may have been one horrible incident I’ve tucked into a corner of my mind under lock and key. If so, and you know about it, don’t tell me. I’d rather be ignorant and happy.)
You know one of the reasons why it’s so easy to have a good Thanksgiving? Nobody’s trying to sell you anything. It’s just good company, some football, great food, and maybe a nap with your belt loosened. The biggest thing anyone can put up for sale is a bird. There are no bogus guilt trips laid on you by manufacturers trying to make you feel as though you haven’t done right by your loved ones. All you have to do, to do right by your loved ones on Thanksgiving, is show up.
Oh, the smells of Thanksgiving dinner cooking! There is no perfume in existence that matches the fragrance of turkey, stuffing, gravy, squash, turnip, sweet potatoes, hot rolls, pumpkin pie, and all of the other mouth-watering aromas that emanate from the kitchen on that day. It is the smell of pure love. The one doing the cooking isn’t doing it because he or she is guilt-ridden. It’s being done because the people who will eat the feast are near and dear; as simple and lovely as that.
MY WIFE and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our place for the past eighteen years. It is the most sublime pleasure of my year to plan that meal and then prepare it. I’m the luckiest man in my family. I get to enjoy those smells longer than anyone else. And I get the lion’s share of the leftovers, too.
I remember lovely huge tables full of food at my grandparent’s apartment in Roslindale, the vegetables served in great green ceramic bowls and topped with big pats of yummy sweet butter. I remember other times of waking in my upstairs bedroom to the smell of a turkey roasting in my childhood home in Dorchester. Later, after my parent’s divorce, I ate TWO huge dinners every Thanksgiving – the first cooked by my father and the second served at my Grandma’s in Weymouth, where I would eat with my mother. It wasn’t easy, but I loved both of them too much to disappoint either one of them, so I did my duty. I even ate a couple of pieces of pie at both places, just so they’d have no doubt about how much I loved them.
I try to remember what the name of the holiday calls for – the giving of thanks. I look upon my preparation and sharing of food as a sacred rite of sorts. There’s no skimping on this meal. If money’s tight, it’s a way of showing my faith in the idea that God will bring better times. Always, it’s a time to be thankful for the good people who are sharing the table with me (even if some of them don't like their picture taken.)
There are lovely constants at Thanksgiving. For instance, every year the Detroit Lions play football. Well, at least they try, and they ought to get credit for that. And the same stories get told at the table. There's one that never fails to get mentioned, concerning turnip and a Danish friend of the family .
Seems that one year, when this Dane was a holiday guest, my grandmother was preparing the food and one of the vegetables was turnip. The fellow laughed and said, in his Danish accent, “Turnip! Ha-ha! Very funny!” and when he was asked why he was laughing, he said, “Ho-ho! Yes, the joke’s on me! That’s a very funny joke. OK, you can take it away now.” Seems that they only served turnip to pigs in his region of Denmark. He thought it was a joke for his benefit. When he found out that it was something we actually ate, and enjoyed, he became somewhat indignant, if not sick to his stomach. Every year, when I bring out the turnip, that story returns for it’s annual telling. And I love it. There is also usually a mention of turducken as though it were just invented the previous week.
When the meal is over – well, at least the part of the meal that doesn’t involve pie – my stepfather and I turn our attention to the end of the Lion’s game. Meanwhile, the other folks have good conversation, coffee, tea, and, yes, pie. If the Lions win, Bill and I have a piece of pie to celebrate their good fortune. Since this rarely happens, we console ourselves with a piece of pie if they lose. It’s all good.
(This year, the Lions have a decent squad. Unfortunately, they'll be playing the Houston Texans, possibly the best team in the league, so the Lions will probably lose again. Oh, well. Pie!)
Soon, it gets to be late afternoon and folks start leaving. First, my Cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea, because they go visit some other relatives. Then my Uncle Rick. Finally, after all others have gone, Bill and My Mom hit the road, and then it’s just me and MY WIFE, all alone in the house. At that point, I do what any red-blooded American man would do. I take a couple of the leftover rolls, slice ‘em open, stuff them with turkey and dressing and gravy, and eat them while I watch the end of the Dallas game (and if they'd lose as often as the Lions, I'd be a happier man, but, once again, Pie!)
(As a bonus, I get to watch my New England Patriots play their big rival, the New York Jets, on Thanksgiving evening. More pie! Yes!)
I love this holiday so much, I take the entire week off each year. That way, I can very leisurely clean the house and buy the food and decorate and do prep work for the feast, taking those chores completely off of the hands of MY WIFE, who deserves at least as much of a restful, enjoyable feast as I’m giving everyone else. I love every moment of that busy, yet still somehow slothful, week. And, in that spirit of sloth, this will be my last post until December.
I wish you a Tremendously Happy Thanksgiving. Say your prayers, eat much, show love (and, if you value the day, please don't shop.)
Soon, with more better stuffing.