I was a baby when it happened, the First Thanksgiving.
My dad and Q-tip (his newly minted stepmom) were engaged in a passive aggressive battle of the spineless, having what amounted to phone calls made by marionettes, Hurricane and DB, respectively, operating their strings.
This, everyone accepts as fact.
Everyone also accepts AS FACT that the First Thanksgiving also STARTED over the Turkey (who is cooking it at whose house etc.), and like most pusedo-arguments in families like mine, it spread like a California wildfire; the flames of contention burned hot and covered topics ranging from grandbabies, birthdays, golf, closet renovation, my dad’s job, his pay, his *lack of* vacation time, the general controlling ass-hattery of DB, the simpering disapproval of QTip, Christmas plans, Christmas shopping (these later lead to the First Christmas), the weather, daylight savings, the price of milk, the lawnmower, the cleaning lady Julia, the pediatrician Dr. Brinks, and President Carter.
Even our beagle Penny got dragged into the fight, which seems in retrospect the true measure of how low this fight had grown…
QTip had married my granddad DB the year before, and she was looking to make her holiday claim on Thanksgiving; Hurricane was having none of it. Hurricane was protective of her little family and also wanted to have control over this holiday – especially one that revolves around food.
But Hurricane was a fabulous cook. It would become a well-known fact in every neighborhood in which we ever lived that the best snacks and the best meals came from her kitchen. Summer afternoons and snow days often saw a steady stream of hungry folks, and not just kids, either. Adults knew that in the spring there would be Scottish shortbread and wine spritzers, in the summer there would be fresh cut fruit and fuzzy navels, in the fall, Russsian tea and sometimes a peach cobbler, and in the winter, homemade cinnamon scones, pecan pie tea tassies, and hot dark cocoa or grasshoppers (or often a strange mix of the two). In addition, all year round you could find an assortment of pound cakes, bourbon for the men, Drabuie for the women(1). It was gloriously idyllic; I was about 10 years old before I started to truly understand that all kitchens and all moms didn’t operate in this generous, welcoming, aromatic way.
But this was before Hurricane’s culinary reputation was well known, and this battle would be one that set the tone for all family food coups to come.
At this time it was as yet unearned, but over time it was a thing we feared, QTip’s cooking. She tried to poison us once a year for other various events, including one year at Christmas when my dad almost went blind from biting a whole peppercorn in his salad (how do you fuck up SALAD? Ask QTip), my brother shoved some of his entrée in the toilet, backing it up and making it overflow (ironically, a welcome distraction) and we ended up ordering PIZZA when we got home because we were starving. Mack gave the pizza guy $100 and a 6 pack of Michelob as a tip.
People used to remark about how loving and spoiling DB was with his wife; they had at least three WEEKLY standing reservations in restaurants around town. But really we knew it was because the man liked to actually eat FOOD.
But back to the Case of the First Thanksgiving…
The arguing in the two weeks or so leading up to the First Thanksgiving escalated; on this point all involved agree. The details are sketchy and varied; someone screamed, someone cursed (maybe in Gaelic), recipe cards were left in mailboxes (the nerve!) and there was an evening with a phone left deliberately? suspiciously? off the hook in order to have the “last” word. Caught in the middle, as usual, was my dad, who saw DB at work pretty much every day, and only those two know what was said or not said; not even Pat the World’s Best Secretary was talking.
It was Tuesday before the Big Day; heated exchanges were simmering in a stand-off, sweet potatoes and turkeys had been purchased. It was go time.
No one knows exactly what was said, but History records these – and only these – facts:
* two dishes, one glass, and a trash can were broken
* the handle on the refrigerator was wrenched, making it wobble (2) and every shelf was covered in salt
* Mack snapped a stalk of celery clean in two with his bare hands and drank 3 beers (three!) in the house
* Hurricane punctuated part of her closing arguments by stabbing a butcher’s knife in the air
* Mack slept on the couch for the first and only time in their married life.
The next day, Mack went to work.
And Hurricane sprang into action.
She called Vince, my dad’s college roommate and all around Good Guy. He was still single then, living in Myrtle Beach, working as a property manager. His parents owned some houses that rented nonstop through the summer, but in the winter they sat empty. He told mom that if she cleaned it after we left, she was welcome to it.
She packed us up and used the beer cooler to pack the bird and the fixings. (3)
And left a note.
The note got framed and hung in the kitchen for years. (4)
Every now and then someone would ask,“ is that for real?” Uh. Yeah.
After work, Mack came home, found the note, packed a bag, and started driving.
And did the same thing for every Thanksgiving from that year on.
No drama. We would cook a Big Ass Bird, and then eat leftovers and seafood the rest of the week. We took walks on the beach, watched football, and drank beer from the cooler. When we were older and both in school, we took the whole week – Sunday to Sunday – and Hurricane would violently defend this mental health holiday of her family’s to school officials and teachers alike, who eventually gave up trying to make us come to school that week. So we never battled traffic either.
Over the years, we had different houses – a run of FREE ones there for a while, thanks to Vince! One year we showed up and the ceiling in the kitchen was in the floor and a pelican had roosted in the hole where to oven was supposed to be. We were flexible; we sometimes had company: dogs, exchange students, boyfriends, girlfriends, eventually spouses, and one time even DB & QTip joined (5) but mainly it was just the four of us. And it was FUN.
It was the ONE WEEK of the year my dad took off work for the Whole Week and we played football or tossed Frisbee on the beach with him for HOURS; we snuggled and watched football and we were in heaven.
There was no discussion about Pilgrims or Indians. We watched Frosty when it came on and ate popcorn in our footy pajamas. And there was NO BLACK FRIDAY. We didn’t shop, although sometimes we’d brave the Holy Land of Towels and Baskets (otherwise known to Tarheels reading this as WACCAMAW Pottery and Gifts). But usually this was for some craft project we’d decided to do, as a family! GASP.
Even my dad pretending to do crafts (he maintained his role was supervisory unless there was something that involved a power tool) Until our middle school years, we made our Christmas gifts on Thanksgiving break. Painted holiday signs, birdhouses, homemade jams and jellies, homemade cards, shit with string and Popsicle sticks I still don’t understand, and a variety of ornaments.
Oh the ornaments!
My favorite of these was when we were little and Hurricane had been collecting (read: stealing) all of the tin gold foil ashtrays from the Hardees down the street from us. If you were unaware that you used to be able to SMOKE IN HARDEES, then I’m not sure we can be friends. Ask someone next to you and they will confirm that I speak the truth.
You can buy this unused one for $1.50 from VintageLeftovers.com
She had saved all the previous year’s Christmas cards and we cut images from them in circles, glued those in the middle, glued ribbon and string, and then doused the whole thing in glitter somehow. And gave these as gifts.
Because nothing says Christmas like the face of Baby Jesus glued into a Hardees ashtray. (6)
Baby Jesus Ashtrays included, Thanksgiving means FAMILY to me. With salty waves, Bloody Mary bundled beach walks, snuggling for football and beer, telling funny stories, cheating at board games, eating amazing leftovers, plus all you can eat steamed oysters and crab legs when the turkey croquettes are gone.
These days we hit Wilmington with besties and Pub Crawl on Black Friday instead of shopping. I’m not sure who decided on this tradition (it may very well have been me) but it’s a good one. This year we were home by 9 and I don’t need to go into details, but someone’s head got shaved.
So we continue the no “big family” Thanksgiving with 10-12 place settings and a Norman Rockwell moment. No pressure, no drama, just food and fellowship.
Bite me, Rockwell. Ours was so much better.
And THAT is what I am the most THANKFUL for this time of year.