This week, my mother-in-in-law is in town – but the amazing Velma got off the plane at noon in a wheelchair and we had to camp in the Emergency Room at Hbg Hospital all evening, following by a 4 a.m. surgery.
She’s okay, and I want to tell you about the two terrific Thanksgiving dinners she almost had.
But first, I’m reanimating a Thanksgiving column I wrote about her a few years ago.
VEGGIES UNLIKELY TO BEAT SPREAD
Unlike the holidays of spring and summer, which require charcoal lugging or propane lighting – and sometimes keg tapping and cherry-bomb throwing – Thanksgiving is leisurely.
It asks for only the energy to fall away from the dinner table …
and then waddle or crawl to the living or family room, whichever has the bigger TV set.
It is a sturdy holiday, standing on its own. Unlike its nearest neighbors, Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving gets no advertising campaign, no help from retailers – except for grocers, who are not exactly opinion leaders.
While most holidays have run off to live with a certain seductive day of the week (beginning with M), good old Thanksgiving has been faithful to Thursday. This has its benefits. You can take Black Friday off and have a great four-day weekend, or roll the dice, go into the office and hope that your boss took a four-day weekend. These are good possibilities.
For all these reasons, plus turkey and football, Thanksgiving has been recognized by the National Commission on Days Off as one of three annual holidays that matter. The other two are Christmas and my birthday, which involve presents.
(The NCDO dismissed applications from President’s Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Days of Wine and Roses, saying they were obviously invented by somebody in the marketing department at Hallmark.)
The NCDO also investigated that complex charade involving women, turkeys and bread cubes. It found the actual preparation of the main event to be a simple, five-step process:
1. Turn on oven.
2. Insert turkey.
3. Look at clock.
4. Open bottle of white wine, preferably a Pinot Grigio.
Assuming you have followed the standard protocol of one bottle of wine per cook, when wine is gone, turkey is finished.
The rest, as they say, is vegetables, and who cares?
Not me. If vegetables are so yummy, would they need cheese and cream sauce? Why do we have green beans with pimentos, and broccoli casserole, and peas flambe and tournedos of squash. See what I’m saying? Pick one.
Potatoes, of course, are not vegetables. Mashed potatoes, perfectly achieved, crowned with butter, still hot, are a divine gift worth praying over – one of the things for which we say thanks.
Yes, these are the basics. The most basic is thanks.
As a leisure-time activity, the giving of thanks actually ranks above changing flat tires in popularity, but not by much. So on this designated day, here’s an extra reason you should be thankful: You’re not at my house, where, today, in a crowded kitchen, the main course may be fireworks.
My mother-in-law is coming.
Now . . . it’s not what you think. I like my mother-in-law, whose name is Velma. She is a dear woman, and a tough cookie. (Her daughter, who is fairly ornery, got most of that from Velma.)
I am fond of ornery people. Smiley, easy, gushy people with great handshakes don’t even register on my radar. The few friends I have are crusty and contrary, with good hearts.
I often flirt with cantankerous women. I married one. I got two. They look alike. They’ll both be there in the kitchen.
Lesser males would pale at the thought, but I work in Features. It’s an estrogen-based department. It consists of women writing about music and art and fashion, and business writers muttering ‘the AMP is falling, the AMP is falling . . . ‘ So I’m used to both women and chaos.
I’m also the cook. That’s my turkey recipe, above. It results from years of trial, error and meat thermometers. Stunning in its simplicity, it needs nothing but the eating.
‘But how can I help?’ my mother-in-law will say, and loose the leash of chaos.
Because it’s not really a question. It’s a call to action. There must be something to be done. Out of habit, Velma favors action. Somewhere in her Depression-bred, hardship-trained, woman-at-work approach to kitchen life, she knows her son-in-law should not be cooking. And is not enjoying it.
Except that I do.
Cooking is to me what running used to be. It is a well-known, repetitious action that is a vacation from thought. I never argue with recipes. I surrender and rest my brain, which is half a century old and necessary for the continued acquisition of paychecks.
My back doesn’t work well anymore, so I can’t run, but my mouth works just fine. And when the work of cooking is done – well, there’s the eating.
So cooking satisfies my requirements, and anyone who wants to help can . . . set the table. Otherwise, I do not take kindly to help.
Irresistible force, immovable object. A recipe for crisis.
Or it would be, except for the social magic of Thanksgiving, that wonderful holiday!
It giveth warmth to the stranger and serveth food to the needy, it blesseth the family that is full of thanks, and it sendeth the Steelers to Detroit for a 12: 30 p.m. start on CBS.
And I won’t be back in the kitchen until 4 p.m., at the earliest.
Take your time, Velma.
The vegetables are in the fridge.