Today is turkey day.
I’m going to announce something that will probably be more shocking than my announcement that I do not like pizza. Prepare yourself. Get out your plastic pants. Because I’m announcing to the world that I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving food.
(enter loud cries of un-American disbelief)
Let me clarify that. I enjoy the turkey – but would never go out of my way to eat or cook a turkey on any other day - but if we’re talking cranberries, potatoes and green beans count me out. Sweet potatoes covered in toasty ooey gooey marshmellows – yes. Mashed potatoes with butter and garlic – ick, yuck, barf, never, no way not if you told me it was mashed potato flavored ice cream.
And I never – EVER – eat anything called gravy.
Each year we make the annual pilgrimage (ok, the 5 minute drive) to Chris’ parent’s house for a huge Thanksgiving feast. There are roughly 500 Waterstraat’s that gather around the kitchen island (why spread out in the 3000 square foot home when you can pack yourselves around a 3 foot island) for fun, laughs and booze. Some Waterstraats imbibe a bit more than others (some meaning anyone with the word UNCLE before their name). Others need to be watched closely lest they vulture away the turkey before it makes it to a plate (not naming any of my sister-in-laws). Some just come for the pie (me). And others to play with the dogs (this year there will be 4 Waterstraat dogs collectively weighing less than 40 lbs).
When I got together with Chris, his family welcomed my mom and I into their Thanksgiving celebration. It was a warm welcome back to the true meaning of the day – giving thanks for all we have, bountiful harvest foods and family. It had been years since I experienced a real Thanksgiving holiday – or a real family. My family back in New York is huge. There are so many Repetti’s and Garbarino’s in Brooklyn that they took up an entire street (my mom claims this was the case on Veronica Place). But when we moved to the midwest, our big Italian family reduced to a small family of 3, 4 if you count my stepdad (who sometimes we wish we did not have to) and finally 5 if you count Cookie the crazy Dalmatian (it was the perfect dog for our family – 100% out of her mind and known to lunge at an entire wheel of brie cheese when no one was looking).
Chris’ family is totally normal. Not normal like the 50’s t.v. show normal but normal in an acceptably odd sort of way. And so they produce a very normal Thanksgiving holiday. Sort of. The day typically starts when most families have already eaten their meal. 5 pm. Some years 7 pm. Not so good because you know everyone has starved themselves all day, for the past few days just to go hog wild for one meal in a mess of meat, potatoes and gravy only to find themselves at 7 pm on Thanksgiving STILL not fed.
This year I heard a rumor that the meal is being catered. I will believe it when I see it and know, just KNOW, that Mr. Tom (Chris’ dad) will find some way to get his hands on the bird. And god help us if he does because it could be next year before it is completely carved up and served on a plate.
The rest of the dishes are standard Thanksgiving fare but what surprised me the first year was that everything contained bacon. Or it seemed that way. The stuffing contained bacon and since stuffing is really the only thing I like at Thanksgiving I was beside myself trying to pick out all of the bacon (another shocking announcement – I don’t like bacon).
The most exciting part of the meal was never the food nor the family itself. Like I said – pretty standard family and fare. What was unstandard was the annual clash of the grandmas in the kitchen. Now, Chris has two grandmas – he has a Grandma and he has a Popo. Grandma is his dad’s mother. Popo is his mom’s mother (popo is not only a ghetto code word for police but also Filipino for great aunt). Grandma and Popo would go at it in a grandma way of warming, serving, preparing and cleaning up while trying to establish who indeed was the grand matriarch. They agreed to disagree on just about everything and no one ever did emerge as the grand matriarch but I believe Popo asserted herself to the position by systematically finding a way to have all of the dishes washed before you could eat off of them. Not kidding. You’ll barely get your food down and realize that your plate has already been cleaned. Or your water glass emptied. Or that you missed the plates all together and now have to go straight for the pie (not usually a problem for me).
Which leads me to the pie. By the time we finish eating (about 9 pm), it’s time for pie. Actually it’s time for bed so this is the one family out there that doesn’t make a big deal of the pie. You’re lucky to see one pumpkin pie. The only way another pie makes it into the house is if my mom brings it. This threw me off the first year because in my family we like to think of nothing BUT the pie and scurry down the other food just to get to it quicker.
In the midst of all of this there is much beer and wine served. Last year there was also a certain Czechoslovakian liquor served much to everyone’s delight (or if you weren’t tone deaf, your dismay). Chris’ cousin is married to guy from Prague and his entire family joined us for Thanksgiving. What you don’t know about the Czechs is that they get much satisfaction from crashing a standard American holiday and force feeding this liquor to unsuspecting Americans. They, the Czechs, either know better or have better livers to process the liquor while the Americans…do not.
In a bizarre turn of events, some time after Chris’ 4 foot 10 tiny China doll mother even took a shot of the liquor, the Czechs broke out into song. Not silly song – we’re talking full on Von Trapp Family choir here. They had a melody and they harmonized. It was beautiful and we probably should have paid an entry fee to listen to them.
Enter the drunken Waterstraat’s. A bunch of Irish – Dutch – German mutts who have been overserved Czech liquor. Not only that but being American they are highly competitive. When the Czech’s started singing, the Waterstraat’s started scheming and decided for singing – it’s on. This could be very, very ugly. The Non-Waterstraat's (myself, my mom & Mike) hid off to the side, eyes wide in either embarrassment or disbelief. The Czech’s soon finished their chorus songs - fit enough to sing in front of the pope - while the Waterstraat’s gathered by the oven, one of them standing on a kitchen stool with a beer in her hand while they all piped out Irish drinking songs. There was no melody, no harmony and half of the lyrics were totally inappropriate for children under 10. It got worse before it got better yet still the Czech’s found it highly entertaining and might have even tried to sing – was it singing? – along.
This year there will be no Czechoslovakians. However, there will be two new boyfriends, a boyfriend's parents, two pregnant women, 4 small dogs and - it gets better - Chris' boss.
I don't know about you - but I'm getting there early just to watch the show - because you know it will be absolute chaos. Already is. We went over there on Wednesday night to grab the food processor. It was one of the stealth fly bys in and out of the parent house. You know, you sneak in so quick they won't even realize you're there. Chris makes it out in under 5 minutes with food processor in tow and mumbling the words what a zoo.
I asked what was going on and already he had stories of Popo complaining that Meredith wasn't stirring the flour fast enough, his mom about to make her 100th trip to Whole Foods for the day, I-Chi their little chihuahua stole a half pound of ham from the grocery bag and his dad - Mr. Tom - was complaining about the mail.
All this in 5 mintues?
I ask Chris what the food processor is for and apparently he was put on pie (and he has to be the overachiever about it and make his own crust). He tells me that his mother assigned a task to everyone. Kevin is on the sweet potatoes, MegMeg & Chris on the mashed potatoes, Denise on the cranberries, my Chris on the pudding & pie, and me...oh crap. Wait a minute. I didn't even get a task. This is either a very bad (do they not like me?) or a very good thing. That or my husband as usual forgot. So I asked - what was my task? He looked at me and said...
Now that's my kind of task. My job is wine and my purpose is pie. And as for the Waterstraat Thanksgiving, I’m showing up at 4:59. I’m going to go with a fully belly because it might be hours before we eat. I'm crossing my fingers about the catering because it means the one chance that not everything will contain bacon. I'm bringing my own plate becaues I'll be damned if it's clean before I finish eating and I need to have some place to put my pie.
Happy Thanksgiving to all...eat lots!