Keep it simple and non-traditional, we said. It’s just family.
None of us really like turkey and we agreed we would have filet mignon instead. Denise, my daughter-in-law, would make her famous baked mac and cheese, along with roasted vegetables and a southwestern salad. We would buy pie for desert, and perhaps serve it with ice cream. For before dinner drinks: a white wine spritzer with blood orange sparkling juice, and my favorite vodka martini (Duvan style, also known as a Hindu in certain select Scandinavian circles, going back to the time we had spent in Copenhagen in the eighties), made with Belvedere vodka and Martini and Rossi dry vermouth, or French Lillet, in equal proportions, a slice of lemon or lemon peel (never olives or celery sticks) and a splash of Campari. In my mind (and only in my mind), there is a direct, albeit complicated, linguistic relationship between this drink and Thanksgiving, since Hindu means Indian in Danish (or at least I think so) and indiuk (spelled with Cyrillic letters) means turkey in Russian (my second native language), indicating the bird’s presumptive origin.
There would be ten of us, and the plan was to get together at my son’s house at 1 PM for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, watch football on TV, serve dinner at 4, maybe play a little ping-pong and watch some more football afterwards. And anybody who knows me, knows how much I appreciate the game.
My wife and I arrived with fashionable precision at 1:25 PM. Everyone was already there. The Dallas Cowboys were playing the LA Chargers on the large flat screen TV in the living room. A bountiful assortment of hors d’oeuvres was arranged on the kitchen counter.
Chef Jesse (my daughter-in-law’s sister’s husband — what is he to me?) was readying a marvelous tray of soft and hard cheeses, salamis, grapes, dates, and wild berries. His wife, Michelle took a baked brie out of the oven and topped it with a warm bacon, pecan and maple syrup sauce. The dining room table was beautifully laid with crystal and china for the ten of us.
Since I had to have something to eat before my first martini, I tasted the meat balls simmering away in the crockpot, with slices of fresh baguette, and some pita chips with artichoke dip. Then I fixed Hindus for everybody brave enough to try them, had one myself, and walked into the living room where I predicted a definitive win by the Dallas Cowboys (their eventual loss did not deter my enthusiasm for foreseeing the future, especially where American football is concerned).
In an attempt to get a break from food, booze and the game, I entertained my grandchildren in the backyard. I pushed their swings, made bubbles, hit the soccer ball with Alex, and chased both of them around the swimming pool. At several conspicuous moments, I managed to sneak back into the house unobserved and have another martini, and then another one, and a little cheese, and another meatball. I talked to Denise’s parents about this and that, ate some salami, drank again, and later played a game of ping pong with my son, Dan. He won.
By the time we sat down for dinner, I had gobbled so many hors d’oeuvres that I was hardly able to touch the mac and cheese, the vegetables or the salad. But I devoured the buttery fillet mignon, fresh off the grill and cooked to medium rare perfection by Dan and Jesse. Even my very picky seven-year-old grandson, little Alex, ate a piece and declared it was good, to Dan’s unrestrained delight.
Full and satisfied, I succeeded to transport myself without help to the living room couch, and witnessed a dazzling display of dance and flickering lights presented by my grandson and his father (who manipulated the room’s light switch with skill and rhythmic fluidity), while my granddaughter rested calmly in her mother’s comfortable lap. For those eager to know, Alex performed his moves to the song Right Before your Eyes from James and the Giant Peach, and the Lego Batman sound track.
The Washington Redskins — my son’s team — started playing the New York Giants on TV, and we had to cut our pregame entertainment short. It was before 7 o’clock when the first contingent of guests (Denise’s parents and her sister and brother-in-law) decided to make their exit. My granddaughter Addy invoked bathtub privileges. Luckily, the Redskins were leading. Dan and I had the luxury of attacking the two Julian pies (apple mountain berry crumb pie and cherry apple crumb pie) forgotten in the kitchen. To make our task more palatable we went for a little vanilla ice cream on top.
The next day, the entire family attended the game between the Aztecs of the San Diego State University and the Lobos of New Mexico at Qualcomm Stadium. At half time, with a large group of elementary school children in yellow jerseys, our Alex danced to music by Michael Jackson as part of an event organized by the HeartLife Foundation. For me, going to a football game was a clear break with tradition. And what a treat it was — a true spectacle including parking issues, fireworks, eight dollar hot dogs, a marching band, cheerleaders, a lot of sunshine and, somewhere on the field, a sideshow of college athleticism. To boot, our team won 35 to 10 — definitely something to be grateful for!
Was what we did non-traditional? We never talked about the things we are thankful for, and just let ourselves be. Be together, be unconstrained, be loving, be there. And what are traditions anyways, but an opportunity to rejoice, see family, drink and eat what you like, and excel in experiencing the ephemeral.
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