Giving thanks with a snarl

Elise T. Chisolm

November 26, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

''Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather's house we go . . .''

LIBBY couldn't decide whether or not to go to Florida for Thanksgiving to be with her mother and father and two sisters.

''I only have three days off, and it's a long and expensive flight from here. But then they are in their late 70s . . . whatdya think?'' she asks me.

She and her sisters live in different parts of the country. Their parents retired and moved to Florida last year.

''I think you should go. You'll regret it if you don't, and they probably don't have too many new friends there, yet,'' I tell her.

Then she tells me how it was last Thanksgiving.

''It was a disaster. There were too many of us jammed into a small three-bedroom house. None of us got along and the weather was bad. We argue over everything.''

What did you fight about?'' I ask.

''The kitchen.''

''The kitchen?''

''Yes, our different approaches to mother's kitchen. We are a slightly dysfunctional family anyway, and mother's kitchen is dysfunctional too. It's a tiny space and she insisted on doing all the dinner. She wouldn't let us help, we all tried.

''Here's how it went,'' she continues. ''Cindy and I said we'd do the sweet potatoes. Only we were going to use canned potatoes and then whip them with pecans, butter and brandy -- Cindy's recipe. But mother said we have to use fresh sweet potatoes. And then mother said we had to have sauerkraut, and we all hate it. I wanted to buy the rolls and mother wanted to make them from scratch. Cindy's husband has to have mince meat pie, and my husband wanted pumpkin.

''The kitchen was a war zone. Mother insisted we cook the turkey dressing inside the turkey. We told her that was not a healthy idea, we should cook it separately.

''When we tried to assist she told us to stay out of her kitchen. 'Go entertain Dad,' she would say.

''But Dad wanted to look at football, and the children wanted to play Nintendo, Cindy and Delia, my other sister, wanted to play tennis, and their husbands just argue about taxes and the federal deficit. Daddy just acted like we were a lot of trouble, and I guess we were. We kids have tried to take them out for Thanksgiving dinner, but Mom always says no, it is a family time."

Libby says she and her sisters did the dishes but that their mother told them not ''to put them up, she'd never find them again. ''

The whole scene made them sorry they'd gone to Florida.

''I'll go down at Christmas and let Cindy and Delia go at Thanksgiving.''

Then I tell her the truth -- why she SHOULD go: All holidays become complicated in our mobile society. Thanksgiving is more high-tech and probably less calm than in Grandfather's day.

What a different tableau we present with our modern Thanksgivings. There isn't an old maid aunt who comes in to take over the kitchen or the small children. Unmarried aunty has a high-profile job or maybe a child of her own.

And grandmother has a job or a golf tourney, and sometimes she can't take the time or is just too tired to fix a big dinner.

I tell Libby again that she should go; that families must pull together nowadays more than ever.

''Give in to your mother's recipes, you have a long time to have it your way. Say a blessing that you HAVE a family to argue with, the food to eat, and the good health to make it all happen."

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