And aren't you glad you can read that title and then keep on reading the post secure in the knowledge that here, at least, you can read the word "fantasy" and not have to worry that I'm going to talk about sex? Isn't that a comfort? Because "fantasy" is one of those words that's been hijacked so thoroughly that you don't ever, ever want to have to type it into the Google search box. You also do not want to type in "lamb chop & panties." Seems innocent enough, doesn't it? Just don't even, OK?
Anyway: Thanksgiving. I'm thinking most people's ideas of The Perfect Thanksgiving come from their childhood, one of those Normal Rockwell-esque embellished memories in which everyone was clean and happy, thrilled to be together, with perfectly-cooked food and nobody pinching anyone else under the table or getting drunk and puking in the flower bed. I think it has to be that because if it's not nostalgia, then what IS it that gets adults to walk away from perfectly good food for one day so they can sit down to a meal of giblets, dry-ass turkey, and mincemeat pie?
And what the hell IS mincemeat, anyway?
[Pause for the dictionary app]
Holy crap, I just looked it up. Sure, it's got all kinds of fruit in it, and that sounds OK (even though, in actuality, it tastes quite like the results of a pre-season training program for Christmas fruitcake, as in, "Well, Henry, that one's not quite right. We'll try again next week. Set it on the table next to the pumpkin pie and let's see if anyone eats it."), but why, pray tell, is it called "minceMEAT"? Aha: it also has suet. And what is suet, you ask? (Because I did, thinking of it only as something they put in those chunks of solidified bird food). And yikes:
"the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other animals, used to make foods including puddings, pastry, and mincemeat."
[Jaw drops open. Color drains from face.]
Immediately I start wracking my brain to see if I've ever put mincemeat in my mouth, and because I kind of have an idea of the flavor, I'm pretty sure that, at some point in the way-distant past, I probably have. Fat from the loins of various animals. Omigod. I kind of need to go lie down for a while now and think of something happy, like broccoli.
So, yeah, Thanksgiving is a weird holiday to me. I understand the origins and stuff, and that's all cool, giving thanks for finally having something to eat and taking advantage of the bounty of the season and all that, but why has it endured when so much of the food is stuff most people don't touch the rest of the year? I mean, if we really loved jellied cranberry sauce all that much, wouldn't we keep it in the pantry, put it on the breakfast toast or something? And if we really love gnawing on the gristly inner organs of turkeys, wouldn't you be able to drive to Micky D's any day of the year and order a McGizzard sandwich? Yes. Yes, you would. But you can't, and you know why? Because that stuff is beyond nasty, and nobody (except my dad, bless his heart, who actually liked gizzards, but then he was a guy who kept a jar of pickled pigs' feet in the refrigerator all. the. time. so he doesn't really count) chooses to eat it except on Thanksgiving, and that's purely out of some weird nostalgia. Which is why I don't eat it (besides the fact that I don't eat animal parts anyway): I have no memory of any Thanksgiving before I got married except one, and that was the last one I spent with my parents, when they were pretty thoroughly miserable and my mother was taking drugs, and we went to Furr's cafeteria for Thanksgiving dinner. And, frankly, that's a whole nother level of horror: cooked organ meats AND a cheap cafeteria on a major holiday with surly parents and Muzak.
I'm sure we celebrated Thanksgiving every year, but I don't know where or how. My parents' entire families lived in Texas, and we did not, not until I was 14. There was no way we were traveling all the way from Wyoming or Montana to West Texas for Thanksgiving; maybe for Christmas a couple times, but not just for An Eating Holiday. And I suppose my mother cooked, but I can't remember. My parents were not big eaters, and my mother didn't love to cook, and the idea of her spending all day in the kitchen for a meal for three skinny people who were just maybe the tiniest bit picky about food? Hard to imagine even though I'm sure it must have happened.
After we were married, there were Thanksgiving meals with The EGE's family, which is always an adventure with dozens of people dropping by and tons of food. His mom makes a killer dressing with gravy, and when I was still eating meat, I would get a plate of just dressing and gravy, giblets and all (you could pick those out, along with the eggs). It was fabulous, but it was pretty meat-intensive. One year here lately I was thrilled to find a huge bowl of steamed vegetables—this is a family of serious carnivores—and took a couple bites and then went, "Wait a minute. What's that crunchy thing? Hey, I recognize that!"
Bacon. Tons of tiny little bits of bacon, which is pretty much in there with pickled pigs' feet on the list of things I don't eat.
The last several years I've just stayed home and stitched or read a book while The Ever-Gorgeous Earl, Man of My Dreams, goes to his mom's house, and while that's OK, I still have this idea of My Fantasy Thanksgiving since, you know, everyone else celebrates and I keep thinking maybe I should, too. The thing about fantasies is that you can have them however you want, so you don't have to be egalitarian and include meat or whiskey or—gack—mincemeat pies because you feel your Fantasy Guests would want them. No. They can imagine their own fantasy dinners and eat all the weird stuff they want.
Mine would happen in a gorgeous dining room, with chandeliers (sparkly!) and a fire in the fireplace (warm!) and comfortable chairs (soft!). The table would be big enough for everyone, yet everyone would be able to converse with everyone else without having to shout or use a bullhorn, and although there would be candles, they would magically not be in the way, so you wouldn't have to lean to the side to see someone across the table. China, silver, crystal—I'm not into that stuff, so it would just magically appear, nice and pretty and clean: this would be a meal where you would never, not once, find any lipstick on ANYTHING. Or hairs. Please.
Food? It would be good food cooked by someone who loves food and loves to cook. I don't much care what it is as long as it's interesting and delicious. I think it would be fun to have someone prepare the things I've never liked—cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, various seasonal squashes—in ways that would make me like them. I have no idea what this would be, but it would be fun. There would be many, many courses over several hours, and each course would be just a bite or two, served on a fresh plate, with a little bit of a wine picked out just for that morsel of food. Nobody would get full or drunk, yet everyone would have lots to taste and sip. That's the kind of meal I adore, and everyone else magically would, too. Or—OR!—even better: it would be a meal of just the best desserts/cookies I've ever eaten in my life, one after the other. Because it's a fantasy, those would magically appear without my actually having to remember them (because I mostly don't), and I could eat them without going into a sugar coma or starting to race around in circles and then climb the walls singing "Oh! Susannah."
And what is it with people, anyway: why do people think you have to "get full" when you eat? On the rare occasions when we eat with other people, they alwaysalwaysalways express concern that there won't be enough food for us that we eat (you know: meat & picky eaters), and although we always assure them that we'll be fine, they seriously worry. People worry that there will be Enough Food for everyone to get full, and whenever there's free food, or a buffet, or tons of food available, people will load up their plates as if they're never going to get to eat again in life. And it doesn't much matter what the food is: you can stop by The Dreaded Wal-Mart and buy a box of donuts, open it and set it on the table in the break room at work, and people will eat them. Hell, people will wrap up an extra one in a paper towel and stick it in the desk drawer to take home to their cousin (I have seen that happen at a holiday party at work, years ago). People will eat a pumpkin pie that's still in the box from Sam's Club with an expiration date from last week. And we're not talking people who don't get enough to eat, OK? For a couple years I helped serve holiday meals at Midland Center, and the people who came to get food were anything but gluttonous. They were careful and hesitant and polite, and I seriously doubt anyone tried to stuff extra dinner rolls down their pants.
The guests. I can think of all kinds of groups of people—when I was thinking about this the other day, I was thinking about how I'd choose. I could put together a group of music-lovers who would talk about jazz and then, after dinner, maybe would jam, ohpleaseohplease. Or I could pick people who would discuss politics, pitting people like my friend Karen and a couple of local Log Cabin Republicans. Or religion—I know a lot of people coming from any angle you can imagine. But arguing? Eh. Not for this meal. I think an exchange of ideas would be better than bashing each other over the head with well-turned arguments. Also drumsticks. So I picked ten people who are really smart and have the kind of wide-ranging curiosity that makes them totally fascinating to listen to. I'd have my friends Roz and Wendy, who are two of the most intelligent and curious people I know. I'd invite this guy I know from Mensa who's also got that wide-ranging intelligence. There are two guys from The Wine Rack I'd invite. You know: the kind of people who can talk about art or water reclamation, taxes or beer, and they know something about every subject that you didn't know. I'd invite Greg Davis, the photographer I mentioned last week, with whom I did a podcast years ago and who has since traveled around the world multiple times, taking photographs and meeting people and documenting all kinds of things. I'd have Robert, the guy who does work on our house and who's a retired detective and a seriously nice guy who, therefore, has a different view about the things that go on in the justice system than you might expect from a cop. Kat O'Sullivan, who's traveled around the world on a shoestring (meaning: just a toothbrush and what she can carry in her pocket). And then us—The EGE and I. And then each of the people I invited would choose their most interesting friend, someone who would have a great time with this group. The only problem is that really interesting people tend to be people who kind of talk a lot, but since this is my fantasy, it would magically work out that everyone got to talk but also wanted to listen, so I wouldn't have to play hostess and try to draw out some people and get other people to stop for a second and take a breath already. The conversation would just flow beautifully, and everyone would have a marvelous time exchanging ideas and sharing stories.
If this weren't a Thanksgiving Fantasy, where I'd want it to be kind of relaxing and laid-back, I'd have a whole nother guest list for A Passion Dinner (which is another one of those terms you don't want to have to google). It would be involve the most creative people I know, and they would come and talk about what's in their heads right now, what's got them going right this minute. Some of the same people would be there--Roz and Wendy and Greg and Kat—but there'd be others, too, people who are always working on something that's gripped their imagination and started them on some fabulous adventure. There are half a dozen artists I've interviewed over the years who embody this passion, and getting everyone together and listening to them talk about what they're doing would be beyond fabulous. But it would be the kind of experience that would have you taking notes and making plans and exchanging the names of other people who could help the project take wings, not the kind where, at the end of the evening, you're relaxed and mellow and ready to go home and read for a while.
Anyway, at the end of the evening, everyone would magically be back home, no dishes, no left-overs, no headache or indigestion. Just wonderful ideas floating through our brains.
And the coolest part of My Fantasy Thanksgiving Dinner? Each one of y'all would be there, too, talking about the things that interest you and eating food you love and having a perfect day, all while participating in whatever Thanksgiving celebration is at the center of your own fantasy.
Until I can figure out how to make this into a reality, enjoy your own real-life Thanksgiving celebrations. Try not to think about gizzards and their function in the body, or about fat from the loins of hapless cows or about what your Aunt Irene put in her jello salad to make it so pink. Don't think about any of that! Think, instead, about how thankful you are that you don't have to show up at midnight to start your Black Friday shift at the local Wal-Mart.