Thursday, November 23, 2006
The word instantly puts a chill down the spine of my side of the family. Yes, there will be turkey, great food, and a swell party - especially for the blissfully unaware fifteen kids running amok in my parents' basement, but with the joy comes the quiet dread of getting ready. It starts in August when my mother pulls her notes from last year, and starts worrying. It ends at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, when the first guest arrives, and my Dad is harnessed to his leaf blower diligently chasing that last leaf off the premises. When a car's head lights sweep up the driveway, there will be no leaf left behind. (Never mind that the house is sitting on over two acres of hardwood trees and it's now pitch dark by 5 o'clock.)
You will find my mother sighing in the kitchen. She has been up since dawn cooking, completely dressed and ready since mid afternoon, but there is always something- like Dad killing himself outside, buzzing around the patio, or the little incident last year when there was no hot water at zero hour because Dad forgot to over ride the timer. (He keeps Mom on a very strict schedule water wise.) My mother, the model of self control, grits her teeth and accepts that she has done all that she can do. She and my sister set the tables the Sunday before, strategizing over the one in the family room which could block the football game, and how many kids are old enough to sit in a chair. She starts cooking in September and finishes just before 6 p.m. which is dinner time.
Thanksgiving is one of three major family gatherings. My poor mother is down to one rather distant first cousin on her side of the family, but the Greek side is way up. Our branch alonebrings almost thirty to the table. Back in the day, my grandparents had the whole family over to their duplex on Upton Street, and we all fit in the dining room- almost.
Then their three children took over. My Aunt Catherine got Greek Easter, my Uncle Nick took Christmas, and my dad ended up with Thanksgiving. Back then the clan topped out at around twenty five; now we are approaching sixty. New babies and people keep coming. Last year Dino had twins, and this year my niece is getting married.
At this point, my mother would give her eyeteeth, her turkey candle collection and all her VCRs NOT to do this, (OK- maybe not the VCRS) but my Dad has laid down the law: if he's still breathing, we're still doing it. My cousin, John brings the cheesecake that his mother used to bring. (Aunt Catherine had a secret recipe/competition going on with Blackie's House of Beef, and I think she won.) My cousin, Anne, who is from Louisiana, brings a pecan pie. My brother, Peter arrives from Michigan and bartends. Uncle Nick brings the rum cake. Every year- the rum cake. My sister and I mash the potatoes. My brother, Roger started making Greek chicken soup one year, and now he can't stop. That's only a few of the many hands that get it done. We know the party's over when my sister corrals her sons to take all the chairs and tables back downstairs until next year. It's usually around 8:00, but it feels like midnight.
So we go on, and despite all the holiday angst, I know we have a lot to be thankful for: our ever expanding family. My parents who keep us glued together. A basement full of over- exited children-ecstatic to have so many cousins. A big turkey on the table, and hopefully -plenty of hot water- at least 'til the dishes are done.