Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving

Every time I go into a restaurant lately, I see all manner of signs advertising their Thanksgiving Day plan.  In casual restaurants, it's casual -- like painted on the glass of the front door casual; and in fancier restaurants, the advertisement, perched on a polished stand, is paired with photos of a steaming Thanksgiving feast atop a table decked out in linen tablecloths and gleaming silverware.

I've never been to a restaurant for Thanksgiving.  I know it's pretty common because my girlfriend worked in the food service industry for many years, and has told me how she worked on Thanksgiving Day quite a lot.

But I just don't get it.

I'm not condemning or judging or maligning in any way.  I'm saying what I'm saying because of my personal experiences over four decades of celebrating that fourth Thursday of November in the manner that I celebrated it.

I love Thanksgiving.  A lot.

What I don't love is how the holiday seems to get lost in some odd Twilight Zone between Halloween and Christmas.  Walk into any store on November 1st -- actually, who am I kidding?  Walk into any store on October 15th, and the halls have already been decked out quite sufficiently.  My sister tells me that the local radio station in Chicago that exclusively plays Christmas programming during the holidays has completely forgone the day after Thanksgiving kickoff, and decided to start a little earlier; as in fucking October.

Look, it's business, so I somewhat get it.  Halloween and Christmas are huge moneymakers -- and unless you're the maker of Butterball turkeys, pumpkin pie filling, or that odd, gelatinous tube of cranberry sauce, there's not a lot to pay the rent with.

But that doesn't excuse reducing the holiday's only notable moment to being the kickoff to Black Friday, either.

Thanksgiving for me starts well before dawn.  To stuff the bird, peel the potatoes, or prepping pit crusts?

No, it's so I can get to the airport on time.

With the exception of the first few years I was in Los Angeles, I have always made it home for Thanksgiving.  Those early years were celebrated in what was dubbed an 'Orphan's Thanksgiving', as I and a bunch of other out-of-town transplants got together.  We always cooked.  And each of us brought something to the table, potluck-style.

But ever since my sister got married and started having kids, and undeniably, as the passing of family members struck it home that the ones we love will not be around forever, I started coming home for Thanksgiving.  I don't care if I had to pay it off the rest of the year -- it's worth it.

I did spend one Thanksgiving in a small fishing village in China -- but that's a story for another day.

Plus, I just love being home in November, at the tail end of autumn.  I love that I have to wear an actual coat.  I love breathing the cold air, and smelling the smoke from chimneys.  There's something about autumn sunsets in the Midwest, the sky streaked with the same colors as the leaves underfoot.  People in Los Angeles can argue all they want that the region really does have seasons.  But really, they don't.  Rain does not make a season.  Sorry, but it's true.  And a high of 65 degrees does not mean winter.  Come on, you have to admit even that's a bit far-fetched.

My sister usually entertains for Thanksgiving, and coming in from the cold into a warm house, the windows steamed up, and the air redolent of all that is cooking...

Have you ever noticed how smells can take you back to a memory?  I smell fresh bread, and I think of my grandmother.  Same with Ivory soap.  It's all she used, and when I gave her a hug, I could smell it on her skin.

I smell a turkey cooking, and I am back with my family, no matter where I am.

Some people, I imagine, do the restaurant thing because of all the work -- and yes, I realize that a Thanksgiving feast is a hell of a lot of work.  Try doing any grocery shopping anytime after the second week of November, and it's clear that the initial prep alone is a daunting task.

But for me, it's family -- and family means being at home.  And when we're together for Thanksgiving, we all pitch in.  Someone mashes the potatoes.  Someone sets the table.  Everyone has a job do do, and when the meal is finished, everyone helps with the dishes and clean up.  All the work, ultimately, is still time spent together.

That's why I think football games on Thanksgiving is bullshit.  Not that I have any sympathy for overpaid athletes, but why should they spend a day away from their families for your entertainment?

I'll admit that the game may be on in the background at my sister's, but it's just atmosphere at best, like Christmas music at Christmas.  But I know that I would never ever want to be glued to the television, watching some stupid game, when I could be spending time with my family.  I would hate to think that I wasted one second locked in on the idiot box, when I could have been talking to a family member that is no longer with us.  Is that stupid game really that fucking important?

We sit as a family.  We eat as a family.  We spend time together as a family.

Why on earth would a holiday like that be reduced to almost nothing, a mere blip between Halloween and Christmas?

I'll never understand it.