By SEAN DIETRICH
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Yeah, I know most folks would choose Christmas as their favorite, but not me. Namely, because I was a chubby kid, and we chubby kids preferred our holidays to center around cholesterol.
In my family, the ladies would get started preparing many days in advance for the big calorie party. You’d see females dusting countertops with flour, working tirelessly on butcher blocks, wielding surgically sharp cutlery and threatening to neuter any male who came within 14 feet of her range oven.
The house would be a symphony of chopping sounds, cabinets slamming and the roar of Briggs & Stratton 12-horsepower hand mixers. Christmas simply could not compare.
At Thanksgiving, the food spread was sinful enough to qualify for an R rating. We had heaps of refined carbohydrates, wads of saturated fat, volcanoes of gluten and fruit pies that were completely obscured by Reddi Whip.
Whereas, at Christmas, all I got was khakis.
Our childhood home would also be inundated with loud family members. Sometimes there were people loitering in our house who I’d never even met.
“Come say hello to your cousin Hilda,” my mother would say, matting my hair with her own spit.
Cousin Hilda was 94 years old, a complete stranger to me, and she talked at length about the disruptive nature of kidney stones to anyone within earshot.
All day the walls of our little house would throb with the sounds of human voices. And even though our family was decidedly dysfunctional, it was pretty fun.
My uncle would sit on a sofa, reading the newspaper, sipping Pabst, yelling at his kids. He did this even though his kids were, for example, in their late 40s.
Other uncles and male cousins would hang out in the driveway, trying to look masculine. This is a typical male activity at Thanksgiving — driveway standing.
Driveway standing is not a difficult sport to engage in. It goes like this: While one guy does something important, such as staring beneath the hood of his ‘77 Ford Pinto, other men stand at a distance with hands on hips, offering manly suggestions and occasionally spitting. This is 97% of being a man.
Unless you’re a teenage man. In which case, Thanksgiving Day is all about bottle rockets.
One year, my cousin Ed Lee brought a gym bag full of barely legal fireworks to our family celebration. I will never forget when he attempted to launch a bottle rocket from the waistband of his pants. My cousin had to eat dinner standing up that year.
The young female cousins were different animals altogether. They would clump together, apparently discussing matters of national security among themselves.
Girls were always so private. Which made us boys wonder: What the heck were they being so secretive about? Did they actually think we boys cared what they were discussing? Give me a break. We didn’t care. We had way more important things to worry about. So we eavesdropped.
Then it was time to eat.
We’d all gather around the table, and in that moment, you’d realize how messed up your family was. Sometimes you’d look at your kinfolk, all gathered in one place, and you’d marvel at how you — the only normal person at the table — managed to spring from this malfunctioning group of walnuts.
“Look at these people,” you’d think to yourself. “They’re crazy.”
One of your uncles defined himself as a “serial monogamist.” One of your aunts kept adjusting the household thermostat to “meat locker” until everyone could see their breath vapor. One cousin had spent half the day on the phone with her boyfriend having a heated tele-argument.
But before food came the big prayer. The great equalizer. We all bowed our heads while the elder of our family folded his hands and tucked his knuckles beneath his nose.
First, we would engage in that incredibly corny family tradition wherein everyone takes turns naming things they’re thankful for. Nobody was very original during this little Joyce Brothers exercise.
Usually, everyone thanked God for the usual. Things like “good food,” and “family.” But then some people actually surprised you and offered heartfelt thanks. “I’m thankful for my mom,” said one. “I’m grateful my daughter is out of ICU,” said another.
Then, the patriarch would pray aloud. And it would move you. Because until today you had never seen your cuckoo family as real people before.
So while the head of the family would utter prayers for all, including the souls who left us, and those who were sick among us, the air in the room would change.
Aunts would sniffle, uncles cleared throats, mothers blew noses loudly and some of us dabbed our eyes. Because at this moment you somehow felt connected to something bigger than yourself.
Today was more than just a holiday. This was about something much deeper than food. Today was about understanding that even though you belonged to this messed-up group of humans, these were YOUR messed-up humans. And when everything goes wrong in life, sometimes these humans are the only ones you will have left.
By the time everyone said amen, you knew without a doubt that Christmas had nothing on Thanksgiving.