This year, we’re doing Thanksgiving at my parents’ house.
We used to do that every year without fail, and all the cousins would come to us. (We went elsewhere one year, and it was terrible because the stuffing was Stove Top. Unacceptable.)
These days, people live in different places, have different people to see, and different kinds of stuffing to try. I don’t like change, but I suspect some family members are titillated by the idea of sausage stuffing, or – I gag at this – chestnut. So they’ve ventured out to OPT (Other People’s Thanksgivings) to broaden their stuffing horizons, while others of us are just too lazy for morning parades, and so some of our rituals are less clock-work-like than they used to be.
Here’s a sample plate of what those were:
Wednesday nights, Upper West Side
It’s an Upper West Side ritual to go see the Macy’s parade balloons getting inflated on Wednesday night, by the Museum of Natural History.
If you’re in high school or college, the real ritual is wandering around running into people you know, stalking crushes, and using your fake ID to go drink at an Irish bar.
During high school, I only took part in this tradition halfway.
I had a ridiculous fake ID I’d been really excited to purchase, until, right before handing it to me, they stamped “FOR NOVELTY PURPOSES ONLY” on it. (I thought I’d gone to the right fake ID place, on 8th Street, but I clearly didn’t know what I was doing.)
Also, I went to an all-girls’ school and didn’t know any boys.
So I would stroll Columbus with a friend who didn’t know any boys, either, eyeing all the kids in the boys’-school and coed-school jackets hungrily and enviously. “I want a Fieldston or Collegiate boyfriend,” I’d sigh, as kids passed us in hottie-herds, which is the technical name for a group of boys you don’t know.
Feeling useless, we’d go get Toffutti, for which it was usually too cold, but you need something to do with your hands when you don’t know anybody and smartphones haven’t been invented yet.
I don’t think we ever looked at the balloons. We came to check out boys, not half-limp Snoopy.
The Macy’s parade
An adult would take me, my little sister, Marian, and my cousin Tommy to the parade. I don’t remember which adult, because we’d always ditch them to worm our way through the crowd to the front, where we’d duck under the blue police horses and sit on the cold pavement with the other little kids, watching for Underdog, Bullwinkle and Cootie Bug at the feet of the grownups.
We continued to do this way past the age where we could claim “little kid” status. When my cousin was 13 and I was 12, we were still pushing to the front to sit with the shorties. We felt we’d been grandfathered in.
The Butt Fuzz parade-party
At some point, our family started getting invited to a yearly party in a Central Park West apartment. This is THE invitation you want, because you get to watch the parade from a window. Except you never really watch the parade. We’d spend most of the time eating snacks, the star of which was the balogna-cream-cheese stack.
Picture a 7-layer cake made of alternating balogna and Temptee cream cheese. Balogna/cream cheese/ balogna/ cream cheese/ balogna/ cream cheese /balogna/ cream cheese/balogna/ cream cheese/balogna. All cut into wedges that looked like pink-and-white-striped Trivial Pursuit pieces.
The apartment was a typical Upper West Side 1970s relic, which at some point crossed from dated into retro cool. Takes patience to wait that out. The foyer, a level above the sunken living room, had a wet bar covered in shiny quilted leather. That’s where the host stood hawking his egg nog. “YOU! You need more ‘nog!”
The bathroom had reflective gold wallpaper you could see yourself in, and either a puffy, furry, or gold-flecked toilet seat. I’m picturing all three.
We knew this family from our old school, where one of the kids was a grade above me. My cousin and I liked to go into his bedroom and stare at the giant memory collage his girlfriend had made him. In between the photos and magazine tear-outs were doodles and notes, and one of them said “I HEART BUTT FUZZ” over a drawing of something we couldn’t make out, but assumed to be a schematic diagram of butt fuzz.
There’s too much to cover it all, but the most important traditions were:
1) My aunt meddling with my seating chart, every year requesting, “I’d like to sit with the young people.” Unfortunately, so do the young people. We put the old people (to us that was anyone over 40) in their old-people ghetto at the end, and that was that.
2) “Who does not want more turkey?”
That’s how my dad, a psychologist, would ask who wanted more turkey. He’d learned that people were repressed (AKA shy) about expressing their desire for more, but those who didn’t want more would readily raise their hands. Sneaky.
3) Competing apple pies.
For a while, that same aunt mentioned above was romantically involved with a guy who owned a cider mill, which my parents were convinced was a front for a job in the CIA (the one time he came to visit, he brought a short-wave radio).
As we all do when we’re obsessed with a guy, my aunt became obsessed with that guy’s interests: apples. All things apple.
For a while, we referred to my aunt’s apple phase as “Kiss of the Ciderwoman.” She invested in a trailer on the boyfriend’s cider property to make and sell apple pies, and tried to subvert my mom’s role as Chief Apple Pie Maker. “This year,” she’d announce, “I’ll do the apple pie.”
My mom wasn’t giving in. She told her sister, “That’s fine, you make an apple pie, and I’ll make an apple pie.”
So there were two apple pies, and while my mom was smugly confident that hers would be more popular, my aunt spent the whole meal pitching the one she’d made. As she held the turkey platter for me, she’d lean in like a drug dealer and say quietly, out of the corner of her mouth, “You know my pie is really very juicy if you give it half a chance.”
If you think we passed up the opportunity to make sex jokes about my mom’s and aunt’s warring “juicy pies,” you are wrong.
What are your Thanksgiving (or other holiday) rituals, memories, or fantasies?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.