Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey is for family

I often tell my kids, my friends, my family, anyone who will listen to me, that the hardest part of being married is the holidays.

In fact, the holidays may be the hardest part of life in general (other than major illnesses and tragedies, of course).  Or unless you're a man.  For us womenfolk, the holidays are all about planning, shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking, worrying, obsessing, perfecting, stressing, decorating and, oftentimes, peacemaking. Sometimes, there is drinking. For men, it's usually about the football.

That's because we're all trying to achieve the impossible -- we're either trying to recreate the perfect holidays of the memories of our youth, or we're trying to invent the ones we never had. The ones we see on TV, that mythical perfect holiday dinner with the turkey in the center of the table with the white table cloth with everybody smiling and happy.




Isn't that how your mama or your grandmama did it?

I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at my Grannie's house, which was next door to our trailer. Grannie had a huge oval wooden table that she set meticulously with the lace tablecloth hand-crocheted by Grandpa's sister, Aunt Irma Lee, her fine china and silver that had been passed down for generations and crystal goblets. A plantation child, Grannie also had cool little antique gadgets, like a crystal knife rest which kept the butter from getting on the tablecloth, and individual salt and pepper wells.

The adults would drink wine (probably Boone's Farm, but OK), and my brother and I would get grape juice to pretend. Grandpa would repeatedly warn us not to back our chairs into the glass china closet, and we would eat our turkey, cranberry jelly, sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows melted on top, Grannie's oyster dressing, cornbread dressing, peas, fruit salad and brown and serve rolls. My sister, the oldest, would make cherry pies that my brother and I loved.

And yes, I have tried to recreate those meals in my own house with my own husband and children. I have Grannie's lace tablecloth, but it's too tattered to use anymore. And I set my own meticulous table with my own wedding china and crystal and my great-grandparents' silverware. It's my version of Norman Rockwell.

But when my daughter was about 6 or 7, she asked us why we don't put the turkey on the table all pretty like they do on TV. It was our custom to bring the turkey slices to the table on a large platter, after my father-in-law had taken it the bird into the laundry room to carve it up with the electric knife. So we humored her. The Coach brought the big, brown beautiful bird to the table, we oohed and aahed for a moment, then Pappy took it to the laundry room to cut up.

Of course, when it comes to the holidays, the most important thing is family. But that's also the most difficult part of getting, being and staying married. Just like on your wedding day, sides must be chosen. Lines must be drawn.

At whose house are you going to eat on Thanksgiving? On Christmas? Where will you eat dessert? And it starts even before the wedding. I've seen my stepdaughter and stepson sit at a table already rubbing their too-full bellies because they're trying to give a little to everyone and make everybody happy. It can't be done.

I can clearly remember the last time I had a holiday dinner with my own family -- my mom, my stepdad, my sister and her husband, my brother, his wife and their children. It was November, 2000. The woman who had promised to let us adopt her child had just reunited with her boyfriend. Our nursery was all decorated, but remained empty.

My family, feeling sorry for me, came to my house and let me cook for them. It was nice. We all got along. We made wonderful memories. We were blessed with our baby girl just two months later. But my brother would not live to see another Thanksgiving.

All the others have been about my husband's family -- his parents, his children. And, because that's the way we decided to roll, his ex wife, her husband, his children, Later, it came to include my stepson's wife and her parents.  Yes, they'll all be coming to my little house on Thanksgiving. We'll go to the ex wife's house on Christmas Eve. Last year was the opposite.

And I realized the other day that this holiday season will be my first. I mean, "mine." For the first time in more than 20 years, this will not be my mother-in-law's holiday where she dictated all the rules -- what to cook, when to eat, what to eat, how to eat. Where to eat.

In the early days, I capitulated. I let her have Thanksgiving at her house in exchange for Christmas. That was fine. My mom even lived in the same town in Mississippi, so it was easy to go there. Except for Lora's first Thanksgiving. She needed a nap before the big meal. The mothers refused to allow it and repeatedly questioned why in the world I thought my child should take a nap. They found out when she fell asleep at the table during dinner.

They would then come to my house for Christmas. But of course, it was still "her" holiday. She actually said that one time. "This is MY Christmas." The "not yours" was left unspoken. So we cooked her way. We went to church at her time (4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, which I hated). We woke up when she decided. And we ate what and when she demanded.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit and the in-laws lost everything and moved in with us. I still did my best to let her have "her" holiday.

Now I don't have to.

My Thanksgiving will be in my house, cooked in my tiny kitchen (without a dishwasher mind you) and served on my table with my china and silver -- just like my Grannie used to do. I'm trying to create memories for my daughter, traditions that she will want to carry on to her family -- but probably have to give up once she gets married.

That's just the way it is. Pick your battles, hon.












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