Thanksgiving appears to me the same way a hostage situation does. In both cases, unwilling captives are fed strange food by their captors, there is political debate among the ring leaders (often liquored and loud), one or more fires are guaranteed to ignite somewhere (I once saw asparagus combust) and too often threats of knife violence seem a bit too realistic to be played off as a joke (relax Mom, it's just a flat soufflé, put down the sharp carving metal.)
As a product of a divorced home, this means that by the time Snoopy floats across New York, I will have had no fewer than 16 different dishes to dig into: turkey at both homes, ham, stuffing, at least four different pies, a few casseroles, potatoes (sweet, and double baked), vegetables, greens (which are the greasy cousins of vegetables), canned cranberries, beans, bacon, ice cream and enough tryptophan to sedate an offensive lineman. I will have stuffed myself beyond comfort, to the diabetic point of replacing my stomach lining with brown gravy. I will consider purchasing a scooter ala Walmart to compensate for actual movement and blame my gushing love handles on a "glandular" problem. So, when my girlfriend told me that we would also be traveling to Lumberton, Texas, a small town outside of Beaumont, for two additional meals with her split parents, my heart stopped as it prepared for the oncoming clot. It's been nice knowing you, regular sized jeans. Sayonara, six pack. In the next three days I will eat four thanksgiving meals, travel 10 hours by car, watch three football games and sidestep the opportunity to arm wrestle a drunken uncle at least twice.
Meal number one: Dad's house, Arlington, 12 o'clock Thursday. Drink of choice: Tottis. Here, I will wake up mid-morning and reluctantly throw on sweat pants, and T-shirt before cooking. This will be the smallest of the celebrations. We plan on preparing only enough for 10 guests. We have enough Wild Turkey (booze, not bird) to make throwing the football in the street a more interesting game of life and death than it should be, one in which an oncoming car is less important than a 15 yard slant pass. As one of the few competent chefs in the family, I will be relied upon for a hibachi-like juggling act: balancing cutlery, food processing, nonstick pans, cast-iron pots, Pyrex baking dishes and mixing bowls all above the heat of an open-flamed stove top. This is the time of year when dad asks "hey are you busy? I could use some help________." This is the only time of year where I wish I were busy, or at least had prosthetic fingers. Cuts are inevitable, alcohol is necessary, and conversation combustive as smoke will surely emit from the oven and my first of several asthma attacks on the day will be triggered. This will all occur before 10 a.m. Around noon I will wheezily woof down bits of this, and chunks of that across from a family that eats as if it had just been released from a concentration camp. Thanksgiving number one, complete.
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Meal number two: Mom's house, Irving, 3 p.m. Thursday. Drink of choice: Red wine. Here, 13 guests will cram into a comfortable two-bedroom home to mingle and binge a bit more. My mom, equal parts traditionalist and gastro-experimentalist, has elected to once again combine Thanksgiving staples with less obvious fares. We will witness culinary calamity as she puts her flare on the meal, often infusing techniques from two totally different regions. Because hey, who wouldn't want to eat Ethiopian sweet potatoes or South American stuffing? It is around this time that we'll begin the Thanksgiving family tradition of shouting about the poor product that Jerry Jones has decided to put on the field and moan about a time when Jimmy Johnson ran things. This yell session will be fueled by one of numerous bottles of wine. As a modern Cowboys fan, I have grown accustomed to the awkward dance that is Dallas football. The Cowboys are like the really beautiful girl on the dance floor that has had too much to drink and dances a bit too vigorously. They are sexy in all the right places, and they move well, but ultimately are more likely to puke on themselves and slip around in their own vomit before winning homecoming queen. The modern era for Dallas fans has been cheering for this drunken dance floor damsel, but we all know that in the end the winner will be the girl with the higher IQ. Thanksgiving number two, complete.
Meal number three: Babineaux house, Lumberton, 2 p.m. Friday. Drink of choice: whatever your heart desires, they're Cajun. After a five-hour drive on Friday morning, we will arrive at the Babineaux house with circles beneath our eyes and little room left in our bellies. The expected total number of guests exceeds 15. Because when you're a social Cajun family, the door is always open. Last year, they ate homemade etouffee -- a crawfish concoction consisting of a roux, rice and spice. Drinking begins at no regular time, and I plan on wearing my stretchy pants to accommodate my growing waistline. Drinking will last late into the night, and this day will be sans football, but will incorporate backyard camping, a unique tradition my girlfriend's father still cherishes with his daughters. The boyfriends will be in the tent next door. Thanksgiving three, complete. Risk of diabetes, increasing.
Meal number four: Dunham house, opposite side of Lumberton, noon Saturday. Drink of choice: sweet tea, they're Christian. We will conclude our three-day eating excursion at her mother's house, where there will be 15 guests, two turkeys (both deep fried) and one hell of an opportunity for one agnostic writer to screw up his entire relationship. The Dunham family will be preparing an ultra-traditional Thanksgiving feast and is the only house where hands will join in prayer. I will fight any urge to argue in favor of liberal politics or against the use of prayer in school. Internally, I will be biting my tongue while walking on eggshells and juggling lit Molotov cocktails. Externally, I will smile and nod and keep quiet on issues dear to me because of the affection I have for my girlfriend, and the restraint my mother beat into me as a child. As long as gay marriage, abortion, the recent election, Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney, taxes, or Jesus isn't a topic of conversation, I should be fine. Thanksgiving four, complete. Relationship status, uncertain.
Thanksgiving is a unique time for families everywhere. Traditions vary, congregations occur, and long lost faces appear at the dinner table to describe the past five years of their absence over drinks. It is a time for gluttony and relaxation, dangerously fast knife maneuvers and family. For those dear to us, we will race to the ends of the earth -- while a burning turkey sits in our stove -- to grab that last can of french fried onion rings.