How It’s Supposed To Go:

 On Thanksgiving morning, the alarm goes off at 6. The cook rises and goes to the local greenmarket, hand-selecting the freshest produce for dinner. Hot coffee upon returning, the work begins. Sweet potatoes are peeled and chunked. The (home-made) bread is cubed and the (home-made) stock is heated, filling the kitchen with the aromas of stuffing. There is light music. (Vivaldi.) The best of the wine is decanted. Someone laboriously yet lovingly assembles the pan of Grandma’s sweet rolls that are the family’s longest-standing holiday tradition. Dessert work is under way, too — perfect wedges of Granny Smith apples are sprinkled with lemon juice, and the ice cream maker is spinning. The heirloom turkey, which was brined yesterday and air-dried overnight in the fridge, goes into the oven. Family arrives. The children express delight at the smells from the kitchen and show off the construction-paper turkeys they made yesterday at school. The adults open Champagne and talk about politics (everyone is in agreement), Christmas (everyone is well-prepared) and plans to remodel the kitchen (everyone loves the new island). The turkey comes out, and is moved to the carving-board to rest while the pan drippings become gravy. The turkey gravy is lush with bits of fond and shreds of meat. The rolls slip cleanly from the pan and the sides are transferred effortlessly from baking pan to serving dishes. The cooks change into fresh clothes for dinner. The turkey is expertly carved. Dinner is served promptly at two, and ingested in a leisurely manner. There is good hot coffee, and dessert, and a nip of apple brandy to go with the pie and ice cream. The adults team up to do the dishes while the children nap. There might be a board game, or a walk to look at Christmas lights, or even a game of touch football. There are turkey sandwiches as a very late snack, and the clamor for the leftovers leads to careful division of the remains.

 How It Does Go:

The alarm goes off at six on Thanksgiving morning. I shut it off because my brother is working today, so Thanksgiving is tomorrow for us.

The alarm goes off at six on Friday. We snooze til about 8:30 and then leap from bed in a panic. I shoot a Red Bull and start packing. We’re cooking at Mom’s, as this apartment is not suitable for eight people. At Mom’s, I put on some music. (Tupac.) The frenzy begins. The turkey, which I got at a Mexican poultry market on the west side where they kill them to order, is still slightly feathered and fairly bloody. I get to work with cold water and pliers while Emily opens the first bottle of wine and decants it into coffee cups. Next I get going on the pan of sweet rolls that are the family’s longest-standing holiday tradition besides refusing to be the one to answer the phone when Grandma calls. (Grandma can be kind of an asshole.)

My brother and his wife arrive with their three children and a dog. It’s clear no one enjoyed that car ride. The dog, who weighs one hundred pounds, lies down in the exact center of the kitchen and will not move again until it is time to leave. Two of the children are crying and the third comes into the kitchen and asks what we are having for dinner. This is a trick question; every possible answer—including “cupcakes”–will be met with a grimace and gagging noises. 

My brother turns on the TV, but there’s no football. Which is good, because that means no one will throw a drink at the TV this year. (The Lions gave up a backdoor cover.) Mom begins the process of clearing eight months’ worth of paperwork off the dining room table. (It begins with careful sorting and ends with a cardboard box and a snow-shovel.) The adults drink and express dismay over the imminence of Christmas while the children sit on the dog’s head and argue over what channel to watch.

The turkey comes out, and is put on the carving-board to rest while I disguise the ingredients of the gravy with a stick blender. I add a little sherry in hopes the children will nap after dinner. The sweet rolls are peeled from the pan with the help of a heated chisel and the baking dishes double as serving dishes because “it’s stupid to dirty another dish.” I run upstairs to change into a clean shirt. The only one that fits is from Señor Frog’s. I elect not to wear a dinner jacket, since there are bikinis and innuendo but no profanity. Someone carved the turkey, “to help speed things up.” It looks like it was carved by the dog. Why does no one ever do the dishes “to help speed things up”? 

Dinner is served, three hours later than planned. Three of us are finished eating by the time Mom sits down after helping the grandchildren compose their plates. The children each take two reluctant bites and ask about dessert. They ignore the pie and ice cream in favor of leftover Halloween candy.

The adults are either too tired or too tipsy to handle the dishes, so we leave the tower for tomorrow. The children are asleep, so we pack them into the car, with hugs all around. No one even wants to think about food, which is awkward because there are enough leftovers to feed Somalia.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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