Thursday, December 09, 2010

Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Every year since 1995, I've hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I happen to live in the house where my siblings and I grew up, where my parents hosted many Thanksgiving dinners when I was a child. My sisters and their families have been faithful attendants at my dinners. Their children, now grown, as well as mine, look forward to the event. My mother, at 88, presides.

This year, John and I were joined by my younger son, Nathan, who took a bus up from Brooklyn on Wednesday. My younger sister Liz and her husband Steve drove down in the morning with their two sons, Jake and Pete, both in college. Mary, my older sister, and her husband Dave (they've been married 40 years) drove down the hill. Their oldest, Brooke, and her husband Peter and daughter Julia, had driven up from Virginia the weekend before, so they were already in town. Their second daughter, Meagan, had driven from Boston the day before with her husband Doug and toddler son Griffin. My older son Tyson joined friends in Pittsburgh, and their youngest, Ryan, stayed in Los Angeles.

Last year my brother Tom, his wife Sue, and their youngest (but grown) children Sarah and David joined us, but that is unusual. They usually have their own enormous feast with family, and that's what happened this year. My brother Phil and his wife Marilyn leave for Florida each October, so they are not with us, although they have joined us in the past, and sometimes brought additional guests.

The house is filled with people by 1 pm. John was in charge of background music, and he put on great LPs. Wine and beer abound, and for some reason we seem to favor wine for this meal. The beer comes in handy for pre- and post-Thanksgiving drinking around the fireplace, Scrabble board, or muted football games on television.

Liz is in charge of bringing wine and interesting hors d'oevres. She recently started bringing additional white meat, cooking a turkey breast in the morning before they drive down. Mary cooked an additional small turkey this year, and it's a good thing she did - we had just enough meat to cover the traditional leftover meal on Friday. She also bakes several squash. I make the dressing, the turkey, and boil the potatoes to mash just before we sit down. My brother-in-law Steve makes the gravy as we're waiting for the turkey to rest before carving, which nephew Pete has handled for the last two years. My mother has in the past made a couple of pumpkin pies, but I took that over, and Mary almost always makes an apple pie and at least one pumpkin pie. I think we have given up on vegetables other than the squash, but that could change in a different year. This year, someone made a fruit salad, but it was forgotten at a different house. Liz also forgot a large quantity of expensive cheeses and left them back in Utica this year. Someone always forgets something major. The ancient salt and pepper shakers shaped like turkeys, though, were on the table, along with the Melmac turkey platter.

This year my brother-in-law Dave said the grace. He was missing his son Ryan, and knew that his son-in-law, Peter, would leave for the Middle East in his Air Force capacity within another week or so, and he was a bit emotional. Other years we've shared grace among visitors; last year, for example, Jie, from China, said a few words, and Nate said a grace in Hebrew. Our guest from Texas, my friend Rich, newly divorced, was also a guest last year, but was with a new friend this year.

The meal itself is wonderful, delicious, fun (because we are so good at witty repartee that we should have our own reality show), and slowly puts us to sleep. We slink off from the table, some to collapse in the soft living room chairs for some turkey napping with muted football to light the way. Some are energetic for a bit, and put dishes in the dishwasher, run it, wash up a few other things. This process continues for the rest of the day and some of the next day.

After a bit, around the time the pies are cut and the whipped cream is sprayed on the slices (scrtch), music happens. This year my little sister played the piano and I got my violin out to play melody lines of Christmas carols. Julia, 5, and Griffin, 2, were entranced. Julia danced and played with some small figurines that I put out for her entertainment. Griffin stared and stared at the violin. Later, Meagan explained that one of his favorite books has monkeys or some other animal playing the fiddle. He was amazed to see the real instrument after reading about it. When Liz got tired of playing, I switched to piano. We sang together - Liz's voice is getting stronger every year, from practice with her church choir. Mary sang too, but she is not practicing with any church choir (I love you, Mary).

When my siblings and I were children, Thanksgiving evening was a sort of recital for us: we all took lessons on some instrument, many on piano, and we all practiced Christmas carols on that instrument to prepare for Thanksgiving afternoon. In 1995, we also used my extensive PA equipment, guitars, amps, and drum set to jam out after the feast, and that has continued, on and off, each year.

After dark, families with small children had to make arrangements for their bedtime up at Dave and Mary's house, and I drove Jie back to Binghamton. When I returned, Peter picked up a guitar to jam with me and John. We sang and played and drank beer, knowing that he would be going overseas soon, before Christmas, for a short six-month assignment.

Nothing that we wore for this festive day was memorable: mostly jeans, although I think I wore a red mock turtleneck and soft heathered red hoodie that I had just found at Salvation Army the day before and washed up, intending to wear the outfit for the feast. This is definitely a day about food and family and music.

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