Thanksgiving absolutely represents the best holiday we have. The only requirement happens to be to visit relatives and engorge oneself. We all know relatives can suck, so that is why we have made sure we have football games to watch to avoid any in depth discussions with relatives we want to dis to avoid a rehash of the dysfunction.
Alcohol plays a role as well. But it can be a real double edged sword.
Assuming one is returning to one’s family home, the best part happens Wednesday night when one heads to the local watering hole in hopes of finding high school classmates on a similar pilgrimage to the family home and in similar need of escape from said family home.
I watched this fan dance as a tag along to my older sister. She has 11 years on me. Our nuclear family had melted down by the time I hit high school, so I was the only one in the family to attend boarding school. Still, once I hit the age of 21, I headed out with her to meet up with her classmates, many of whom had been baby sitters or unwitting victims of my outbursts during my feral period that was my early childhood. While not raised by wolves, I was largely raised by teenaged siblings. That, to me, is a distinction without a difference.
These nights typically started around 8:00 pm and rarely ended before 3:00 am. That would not be so terribly egregious if we were then able to sleep in, but we were up by 9:00 am to get to the local high school Thanksgiving Day game. There we would encounter the clean living members of the returning classes all bright eyed and bushy tailed as we skulked over to alumni we knew better who would be packing a flask of brandy or some other alcoholic concoction that would assist in taking the edge off.
During this time our mother stayed back in her cramped apartment smoking butts and muttering to herself while listening to her high school game on the radio. Once home, we would set up TV trays and watch the NFL games while slowly anesthetising ourselves in hopes of falling asleep early to avoid too much conversation before packing up and heading out on Friday for points manufactured to flee the manic parental presence.
But those evenings never ceased to amuse and, in hindsight, horrify. The years all blur together, as the same core faces keep appearing through the alcohol induced fog bank in my mind about these evenings. They always started at one bar that was slightly more upscale in this quaint New England Town of about 10,000.
This bar closed around Midnight and was slightly more responsible, oftentimes shutting off certain members of the traveling party, thereby hastening our retreat. From there we headed to a more honky tonk establishment that abutted a very old, and very seedy amusement park by a lake. Heading here invariably had people recounting stories of their early sexual gropings on amusement rides as well as some of their first summer jobs.
This bar stayed open a little later and had more amusements with which to occupy us. I distinctly remember a dart board very near the men’s room that required cutting in front of the throwers in order to get there. That no one ever took one square in the head amazes me. I also remember some Mrs. Robinson groping in said rest room, but for the life of me, I cannot remember who the woman was. I do not think she was part of my sister’s crew, but cannot be sure.
The height of the evenings always came when the owner came out with a huge roast turkey and plopped it down on a table in the middle of the bar. No plates. No cutlery. Just a carving knife and a two pronged fork with which to attack the bird.
Alcohol, carving knives and darts. It does give me pause and makes me wonder just what the owner’s insurance underwriters would think of the planning behind these festivities. I am also amazed to have never seen blood on the floor around this bird that was usually picked clean in less than ten minutes. We’ve all had pizza flap, but how many of you can say you had turkey flap?
All of this came to a crashing halt once my sister’s children entered high school. Then we went to her house to watch her child play in the Thanksgiving day game and then, later, we stayed at her house so her college-aged kids could do the tamer 1990s version of the activities in which we indulged in the 1970s and 1980s.
And now we are in the late aughts. My third son now quarterbacks the local team that likely will not win a game for the second year in a row. Still, the extended family will now gather at our home and attend the traditional Thanksgiving Day game of my third son while the two older ones come home from college to “reune” in a manner about which I do not want to know.
But that really is the point. It is to get together with one’s family. The older one gets, the more one realizes one’s family is not necessarily those related by birth, but those related by common experiences and memories. And that is why for young people the best part of the Thanksgiving festivities typically occur on Wednesday nights when they are with the people they want to see, rather than the people they have to see.
Then once you have raised and sent your children off into the world, the people you want to see are those to whom you are related, and you let them have their Wednesday in exchange for the Thursday.
And so what if they are a little hungover on Thursday? It means they will have a harder time escaping you. Nothing helps a hangover more than a tryptophan-induced coma followed by an extra piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
Parents know these things. We needed them twenty or more years ago ourselves.