Thanksgiving 2020, where the ideal meets the real

Opinion: Columns

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By Alan Brouilette

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. There is coffee upon returning, and 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, brined 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 laid 'pon 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 2 and ingested in a leisurely manner. Everyone is delighted by the presentation. There is good hot coffee 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, and then all spend a peaceful afternoon and evening together. 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 all that remains.

How It Does Go:

The alarm goes off at six on Thanksgiving. 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 it till 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 (Wu-Tang). 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 shoos the cats away from the dead bird of their dreams. Next I get going on the pan of sweet rolls that are the family's longest-standing holiday tradition now that refusing to be the one to answer the phone when Grandma calls has been, uh, retired.

My brother and his wife arrive with three children and two dogs. It's clear no one enjoyed the car ride. The dogs lie down in the exact center of the kitchen and will not move again until it is time to leave. Two of the children are visibly angry and scrolling. 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 this being Friday, there is no football. This is good because that means no one will throw anything at the TV this year. (The Lions gave up a backdoor cover late.) Mom begins the process of clearing eight months' worth of paperwork off the dining room table. (The process begins with careful sorting and ends with a cardboard box and a snow shovel.) The adults express dismay over the imminence of Christmas while the children scroll.

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 try and find a clean shirt, and the only one that fits is from Señor Frog's. I elect not to put a dinner jacket over it 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 dogs. Why does no one ever do the dishes "to help speed things up"?

Three hours and 11 minutes later than planned, dinner is served. Three of us are finished eating by the time Mom sits down. The children each take two reluctant bites and ask about dessert. They ultimately ignore the pie and ice cream in favor of leftover Halloween candy. The adults are too tired to handle the dishes so we leave the tower for processing tomorrow. Hugs are distributed amid pleas to accept more leftovers, of which there are a lot.

Wouldn't have it any other way.

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