Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Real Life Thanksgiving

I’d like to know who creates the commercials for Thanksgivings….the ones you see where everyone is dressed up and a multitude of shiny perfectly cooked side dishes lounge peaceably on a cranberry damask tablecloth. Each person in the family is smiling—or laughing at an uproariously clean and good-tasting-joke—while the Head Female in the house leisurely sets the golden-oven-roasted bird on the table. That commercial where no children are screaming, the house is clean, the oven works and it is pretty obvious that someone here has been prepping for this one-day meal for at least three weeks. I’d like to meet the people who create these commercials and then I’d like to share Thanksgiving dinner with them and see exactly where they get these beautiful ritualistic ideals.

My problem, you see, is there is a part of me that actually expects (or at least strives for) some sort of ceremony and perfection from a day like Thanksgiving. I’d really like to be that Head Female, nary a drop of stress and holding 25 pounds of succulent fowl. But the reality is Thanksgiving isn’t that way for me most years. Well, okay, every year.

Last year my husband and I decided to invite his parents and grandparents to our house for the November holiday. We had just found out we were expecting baby #3 and thought it would be incredibly fun to have everyone here for an East Coast celebration.

I’m not sure if I’ve previously mentioned that my husband is Italian. Over half Italian as it turns out, not simply a smattering of Italian, not he-was-run-through-an-Italian-kitchen as-a-newborn Italian, but actually over-half-real-life-genetic-Italian. Which means that his dad is full Italian and Nana and Papa are well, full-Italian with parents who came over from Italy. And what this means to Thanksgiving is that Tom Turkey is an afterthought.

Any holiday celebration with my husband’s family is a big Meat Fest and must include: Nana’s stuffed rigatoni, sausage cooked in spaghetti sauce and what my daughter affectionately refers to as “Nana’s meatbulbs.” Now, Nana’s meatbulbs are known far and wide as the best meatbulbs ever and my kids can inhale 2lbs of cow each when Nana gets those things cooking. I will admit—Italians brace yourself—that I’m not a big meat eater. I’m no vegetarian, but I don’t typically seek out meat as a comfort food. Unless you count bacon, but as everyone knows, bacon isn’t really meat. I don’t particularly care for sausage on any level and only have recently begun eating it on pizza. I’m also not one big on meatbulbs, however I can put away a few of Nana’s. They really are that good.

So, day before Thanksgiving 2006, sausage and sauce are simmering on the stove top for about 12 hours (which is a great smell when you are pregnant), meatbulbs are cooked and I had prepared a fresh raspberry pie for the next day. (With the last of the freshly picked raspberries from local New England farm.) Pie is in the oven. As I’m checking on pie, I notice a small flame coming from the heating element at bottom of oven.

“Um, there’s a fire in here,” I say outloud.
“Put some baking soda on it,” my mother-in-law suggests. I grab the baking soda. Sprinkle, sprinkle. Nope. There’s still a fire. I’m thinking that those are pretty stubborn berries aflame in there. The pie probably leaked and that’s what’s burning.
“Put some more baking soda on it,” she suggests again. I dump more on.
And I’m dumping on baking soda, and the fire is still burning, and now moving up the heating element, and currently there’s four adults staring into the hot open oven wondering what the hell is going on, and the box of baking soda is empty, but it looks like a blizzard has materialized in my oven, and with looks and nods, we all decide: the heating element has had it. Current time: approximately 6 p.m.

Now, in my next life the first thing I’m going to do is open a 24 hour appliance-parts-store that is open year round, for sorry saps like me whose heating element kicks-it the night before Thanksgiving. I really believe this is an untapped market. So off goes my husband and father-in-law, rusty muskets thrown over shoulder out to harvest one new stove element for Magic Chef stove. (Yes, Magic Chef is an appliance brand name—it’s top of the line, haven’t you heard?)

I’m inventory-ing the Thanksgiving meal: Rigatoni? Check. Meatbulbs? Check. Sausage and spaghetti sauce? Check. Turkey breast? Nope, was going to cook it tomorrow. Raspberry pie? Nope, it’s half-baked. Bread? Nope, tomorrow. Stuffing? Nope, tomorrow. Pumpkin pie? Nope, tomorrow. Now the stress is starting to build a tiny bit. This isn’t looking like those Thanksgiving meals on TV. Not even a little bit. It’s more “A day in Italy,” than anything else. But I’m trying to put on a happy face. We are together after all. And I have a roof over my head that doesn’t leak. And I have one half-baked raspberry pie. Which my mother-in-law still thinks we can salvage, and if we can’t, well, she’ll be happy to eat it anyway. (She has a thing for uncooked pie crust.)

So, arrive home the Pilgrim men sans heating element. Oh, the local hardware store had one, but not that fit a Magic Chef stove (again, top-of-the-line I tell you). I’m about in tears but the Pilgrims are happy to go to the store and get the rest of what we need.

Well, suffice it to say that later that night, after only crying for a few hours (in my defense, pregnancy hormones were to blame for some of this), I had come to terms with the fact that this Thanksgiving, like so many others, still was not going to be commercial-perfect. The good thing about my in-laws is that they have no expectations of perfection. As long as there is rigatoni, meatballs and a fresh pot of coffee, all is good. My husband and I decided to 86 the raspberry pie on the sly, because we knew mom would eat it, and well (having diabetes) mom needs a half-baked raspberry pie about as much as I needed a big sausage sandwich.

Thanksgiving morning, having no oven, we eat: microwaved stuffed rigatoni, sausage and spaghetti sauce, meatbulbs, one Ronco-Rotisserie cooked turkey boob (both breasts wouldn’t fit), store bought French bread, store bought pumpkin pie, and Stove Top stuffing, cooked ala stove top. We wore sock feet and jeans to dinner, and most of us had on clean shirts and sweaters. And after my mother-in-law forgave me for throwing away her soggy raspberry crust breakfast, a good time was had by all.

But there were no shiny side dishes. No beautifully glazed turkey. No ceremoniously made pumpkin pie or secret family recipe stuffing. Those dammed commercials set me up. Like I said, I want to meet the people who film those advertisements. I’d like to invite them to Thanksgiving with me sometime. Maybe they’ll create a scene a bit more realistic, with real life stress and missing pies, and ovens that don’t work. What was Thanksgiving like this year? Well, that’s another blog entirely.


beebee said...

LOL. I remember that! You always seem to have the best family gatherings. This holiday season I will attempt to not flip out over my own holiday family craziness by keeping your saintly image in mind.

Rachel said...

high five sistah!

bro chris said...