Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?

Janice Sackett, from left, Edie Steinberg and Alan Goldberg

   Three turkeys. One roasted. One fried. One smoked. Which is a lot of turkey. But I have help. My brother- and sister-in-law, Jay and Janice, do the deep frying honors, in our driveway. My other brother-in-law, Alan, smokes another turkey at his house. And my wife roasts the third.
     Did you notice the sleight of hand above? I said, “I have help ...” but actually I’m not preparing any of the three turkeys. My role is to buy two ... OK, I don’t do that either. My wife does. But I did lift them, when requested, transferring the birds from supermarket case to cart.
     And I’ll carve one, inexpertly, a hack job that will be greeted with indulgence. If you get nothing else from this column, take away the idea that this Thanksgiving you will be kind, especially to those who do something wrong. And double kind to anybody spilling anything. Especially a child. Because such moments linger. I know a parent who once yelled at a child who spilled soda at Thanksgiving, and that yell echoes across the years — it was mentioned a few days ago. You can’t unring a bell, as the lawyers say, nor can you suck back a yell. Keep paper towels handy.
     Things spill. Things go wrong. The bad is as much part of Thanksgiving as the good. Maybe more. The ritual trundling out of terrible moments and Thanksgiving disasters. One year my Grandma Sarah didn’t pan fry the celery before she put it in her stuffing, and it was crunchy. I, a child, hated that. Crunchy seemed antithetical to the soft comfort of stuffing. I reminded her every year, for the rest of her life: “Grandma. Make sure the celery isn’t crunchy.” It’s all I remember of those long-ago feasts, what I think of when I’m poking a wooden spoon at the sizzling celery. Sorry, Grandma. Children can be cruel.
     Three turkeys for 23 people. A lot of people, but not as many as in years past, when we could serve three dozen. Neither boy is coming home. I’ve generally drawn the veil on their lives, as they are now professional adults who don’t want their private doings chronicled in a newspaper. But that leads some readers to imagine they’re still toddlers, and I don’t think I’m spilling the beans to say they’re both away, kicking the tires of their girlfriends’ families. I practically clamped my hand over my mouth, trying not to give advice on that front. “Make sure you ...” Shutting up is an art form. Although I’m secretly worried, not that these visits will go poorly, but too well. They’ll like what they see so much, we’ll never get them back. Our house will become the thatched roof hut of the old sod, cherished in memory but never returned to. If not exactly cherished, then remembered fondly. Or at least remembered. I hope. That’s the trick of being a parent: you wind their propellers then let them fly, holding your breath, scanning the skies for their return. It’s like being in a cargo cult. Maybe next year. Maybe not.

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  1. "Shutting up is an art form."
    Absolute wisdom. Thanks.

  2. This column hit home. We haven’t had Thanksgiving dinner (or any other holiday) with our son since he moved to Chicago about twelve years ago.
    My college roommate and closest friend had us come to his home to celebrate with his family in Miami every year. We became part of their family.
    Two months ago he passed away but we’ll be traveling down to be with the family.
    It will be difficult for all but I believe we will find a way to be grateful for all the years we had with him.
    We’ve learned to make the best of the times we have with our loved ones, whenever and wherever they may be.

  3. A very touching column and nice to see your lovely wife.

  4. We’ll be lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving at our son's house with his wife and twins, with our daughter and her boyfriend also in attendance. And responsible for only one side dish! Some years it works out that way, some years it doesn’t.

    Happy Thanksgiving to the Steinberg clan, and to all the stalwart EGDers!

  5. With one son in NY and one in west Virginia, it's just the youngest this year while he completes his degree at UIC. With my mom having passed in September the other two won't be back for the holidays. I think they deserve to decompress. Such fine boys

  6. Well done. Stay in the moment. This column is so good it could be printed every Thanksgiving. And as the years go by the faces at the table do change.

  7. Wow, Mr. S, didn’t see that one coming. Not exactly an upper. I know a parent who yelled at his family for fifty-plus years, and that voice has been stilled for twenty years now, but it’s still in my head. It’s not for nothing that his kids called him Old Yeller.

    The lawyers are right. You can’t take back a yell…just like the cops say you can’t call back a bullet. And, yeah, shutting up is an art form…and a learned skill. My grandmother never learned it, so my father never learned it, and so I never learned it. Like father, like son.

    The only time that the brothers (my father and four of my uncles) had a family Thanksgiving was when I was seven. Ten adults and ten kids, all under 15, in a rented banquet hall at Lincoln and Peterson. My father, the CPA in the family, naturally itemized the bill. Twenty Thanksgiving dinners for $79.54, plus tip, in 1954.

    I’ve been absorbed into my wife’s family gatherings for thirty years now. My brother-in-law was an Army cook at Fort Knox, so turkey for sixteen didn’t faze him. Now his son’s family hosts the get-togethers. It’s almost totally scripted…the ritual drinks and snacks, the main event, and then football and dessert and small talk. Politics is, and always has been, the biggest taboo. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Used to be followed by card-playing, but everybody suddenly got too old and tired. How did that happen?

    I think that savoring the moment, and missing the absent ones, starts to kick in after about sixty or so. Parents die. Old animal companions fade away. A cousin drops dead in the shower at 54. Alzheimer’s steals away a brother. You’ve knocked it out of the park once again, Mr. S…I, too, have piled on the turkey, looked around at all the faces, and wondered who will be missing next year. Maybe him. Maybe her. Maybe me. Maybe even all of us. At 75, the Stones play in my head more and more often…this could be the last time. You never know.

  8. I grew up in Niles, a house built in 1954. The kitchen stove had four burners but if a skillet was in use the other three were barely functional. The only extra feature in that kitchen was a pull out cutting board installed under a formica cabinet top. For an extra $200 the back wall could have been extended 3 or 4 feet, a feature my parents declined. The second floor, with full dormer in the rear , was unfinished as well, to be completed by my father. When preparing the Thanksgiving feasts in that small kitchen they regretted not adding that small sum to the mortgage. In those days they made there own bread crumps, toasting white bread in that tiny stove, many batches required to make the dressing to fill a 20 pound turkey. Dad used a rolling pin and the cutting board to reduce the toast to crumbs, which made quite a mess. Celery, onion and bacon frying to make my Grandmothers dressing is still an aroma I can conjure up 65 years on. The guest list was always a dozen or mores the bird had to be so large it barely fit in the stove. We still wonder how they did it when we chafe at constraints in the far larger and well appointed kitchens today. These days I am usually a guest at large gatherings and the deep fried turkey is a way to increase the size of the meal without adding a second oven to the kitchen. So far I have been unimpressed with the efforts of our self elected FryBoy. When I saw the price of the oil he uses, $50 for one turkey, I don't see any value to his efforts. I hope your experience is tastier, Neil. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

  9. Such a wonderful piece, so glad you’re having so many family members to host. It really is all about being thankful, and appreciating what you have, finiteness of existence and everything. Our once expansive Thanksgiving gatherings have dwindled down to me, my 77 year old mother, my older brother, and my 84 year old aunt. My 13 year old son will spend most of the day with his mother’s family, then he’ll come over to spend the night at dad’s whee we’ll probably watch one of his favorites like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or “The Big Lebowski”.

    Families are so important, please cherish the moment. To quote another Stones song, hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste


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