It’s not like I don’t know when Thanksgiving will be each year. They don’t exactly move the holiday – it’s always basically on the same date. I have no excuse not to be prepared; in fact, I have 364 days to get ready for it each and every time it comes around. But where do I find myself each Thanksgiving Eve, but at the local grocery with the other slackers pushing a cart up and down isles looking for food products I would not otherwise buy.
Most of the year I’m pretty healthy about my eating, even if the three small boys I try and sustain are not. How they exist on yogurt enhanced with flavors that don’t exist in nature, every kind of sugary coated cereal imaginable, and a wide array of alarmingly nasty snack chips, I’ll never know. Real fruits and vegetables do manage to find themselves into my cart, and once and a while, even something as wild as tofu or a whole grain low carb cracker or two.
But let’s get back to Thanksgiving. The one thing I notice about each of the other cart pushing slackers is, we all have the same food products in our carts. Maybe the others aren’t as lame as me. Perhaps that nice lady over there thought she had one can of left over sweet potatoes in the far reaching cob webbed back corner of her cupboard. Maybe that kindly looking gentleman thought Great Aunt June was going to bring the cranberry sauce, but that fell through. Not me. No, I just don’t think about all the necessary but odd foods I’ll need in order to recreate the warm and fuzzy Thanksgivings of my and my husband’s childhoods.
So, here I am at the store as the clock strikes nine p.m on Thanksgiving Eve, along with the other twenty or so cart wielding slackers as we race like a pack of frenzied lemmings to each Thanksgiving food station in search of those last few cans of necessary items required to make the holiday a success. It’s like a marshmallow topped yam induced treasure hunt as we all try and figure out where in the world French fried onions, whole cranberries and cornbread stuffing reside in the local supermarket. I always wonder if these goodies are actually on the shelves during the other eleven months at all, or if the store manager whips them out of some storage shed in a back lot somewhere just in time. Think about it a moment. Do you find green and red candied cherries any other time than at Christmas? Does anyone actually eat those anymore, or have they gone out of fashion like marshmallow jello and pasta salad? If they do stock these things, I don’t think they put them in the same place each day. In fact I think they move them every morning in the store. This keeps us shoppers on our toes, and for those of us suffering from stress induced short term memory loss or early Altzheimer’s, a.k.a. parents, we are guaranteed to purchase more cans of odd Thanksgiving foods than if they were in the same spot in the store during that whole honorary turkey month. It isn’t by happenstance that I now have four jars of marshmallow fluff in the pantry. It’s because they keep moving the holiday food endcap, like a camouflaged hunter in a duck blind, trying to trick me every time I have to run in to the store because I forgot butter again. Racing past that pyramid display of cooking delights, each time I stop and try to remember seeing it the day previous. I look around at my surroundings, confused and disoriented, reaching yet again for the powdered sugar and chocolate chips, walking slowly to the check out. It isn’t until I reach the safety of my own home I realize I have once again forgotten the butter.
But I digress. Here I am again. Thanksgiving Eve, eyeballing the cart next to me to see if that person has figured out where the pearl onions are hidden. Crawling close the floor boards stalking that necessary box of cornbread stuffing, I pause. Where is it? In the bread aisle? Or is it with dressings? Oh, they don’t mean that kind of dressings, they mean the salad dressings, right? Oh whatever, I’m so confused. I tackle the cute stock boy on leave from college for the holidays to ask where the black olives are located. I mean, what is an olive anyway, a vegetable or a fruit? Doesn’t matter as they are located with the condiments. No wonder I can’t find anything.
Time to check out. Now my next decision is whether to hide the wedding ring or not as I hand items to the checkout clerk. They are already passing judgement against me; do I really want them to think that someone as irresponsible as me could possibly think I can cook a Thanksgiving dinner for another consenting adult, or heaven forbid, children who have no say in the matter?
Once home I feel half the battle is complete, but there are more dragons to slay. You see, our family seems to make a habit of moving right during the holiday season. This time I feel relieved to say our move only entailed swapping houses a few doors down, but usually it takes several airplanes, a truck load of baggage and a change of language before we are safely ensconced in our new home.
Not wanting this move to be any easier than the others for fear I will be out of condition for the next one, I have put off calling to turn on services until the very last minute. This means that my lovely family of five is without basic services we Americans think is our constitutional right including water, electricity, gas and satellite tv for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. Never fear, as I still hold the key to the rental house. I imagine it will be fun to pretend we are at the local campground dashing in our unmentionables down the street to use a running toilet and take a warm shower.
The Thanksgiving dinner won’t be a problem this year, as I have already impolitely invited myself to a dear friend’s house for the holiday. So what if it is their first Thanksgiving together? So what if they were married less than one month ago? Why wouldn’t they want to share this family holiday with me and my brood? Nothing says family planning like hosting three rambunctious boys at a formal sit down four course meal. My heart rate increases when they unveil the newly purchased 61 inch HDTV and sweat starts pouring down my forehead. The visions I have are not of my wonderful friend Wendy basking in the glow of the cooked turkey as she carries the platter from the kitchen to the dining table, or of that first toast to a wonderful meal, but of me intercepting nerf footballs as they are launched at the largest piece of electronics I have ever laid eyes on. I say a silent prayer as I catch the floor lamp in its arc towards meeting that shining, incredibly flat screen after a match of small boys wrestling and chug the rest of my mulled wine.
Now, maybe you are wondering what I was doing at that grocery in the middle of the night, if I have shamelessly invited myself to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It all goes back to recreating those wonderful meals from childhood. My husband is partial to a particular stuffing. I have to wonder though, what ever possessed his mother to brown bacon in butter? Isn’t that redundant? And what possesses me to do the same? I am a college educated adult, and I recognize that bacon doesn’t really need to be browned in butter to elevate the grease factor of the stuffing to ‘saturated’. Could it be I am still reeling from the fact that his favorite comfort food comes from his ex-girlfriend’s mother, even though we’ve been married for eleven years, and I’ve given birth to all three of his children?
Well, I didn’t do his stuffing. I’ve decided to not be so neurotic, and chose instead to make my mom’s fruit salad. It is a wonderfully sweet concoction made with (full fat!) cream cheese and marshmallows. She discovered it when I was just a babe in Alaska, out of necessity because they didn’t get many fresh fruits at the time. You’d have thought I was born during the ice age. My thought is, if the cans of fruit cocktail were so bad, they had to be smothered by cream cheese and marshmallows, I question the intelligence of eating them in the first place. Anyway, I had to dash to the local supermarket to get marshmallows because the boys had used them for their marshmallow guns (another story) and of course, the (full fat!) cream cheese.
I’m sure our neighbors were wondering as I ran back and forth from the new house to the old house carrying a sauce pan and some hot pads. But nothing was going to come between me and a groovy fruit salad from my past.
Even living oversea, the pull of comfort foods was strong. Whether I was boiling down enormous squash to make ‘pumpkin’ pie, or sneaking ham underneath my underwear in luggage traveling back to Cairo, we’d do anything to recreate that special meal. Friends and I would look for hours in store after store in the Philippines to find the right ingredients for chili. We thought nothing of going over our weight limit on the airplane if it meant bringing back a few extra jars of peanut butter. I’d travel four hours in a hot van to secure a can of speghettios for my deserving children. I’ve been known to pay the equivalent of $15 US for pop tarts while outside of the United States. This is the true test of honesty in a relationship. Do you confess to your spouse that you were idiotic enough to pay that amount of money for some pop tarts? You’ve got to really love them if you let them eat a pop tart when they are three dollars a piece. It was a challenge acquiring all these foods, but the sense of accomplishment and experiencing those familiar smells and tastes were worth it.
So, if you see me this next Thanksgiving eve, pushing a cart close to midnight, know that it’s a mission of love. And I forgot the cranberry sauce again.