Roll the calendar back about three hundred and ninety-five years and imagine the governor has invited the local chief and a few braves over to dinner to join you and the other depleted souls that survived year one in paradise. However, as with any holiday party, the invitee brings a few extra friends. Ninety-two to be exact. Ninety-two Indians. Fifty-five Pilgrims. Fortunately, the guests drag over a few deer in lieu of Hearty Burgundy, and you have a couple of things left in the root cellar from the last clambake.
But, the house is a disaster. You just patted in the last blob of pre-winter mud and have barely table setting for six. To get a table big enough you’re gonna have to off half the virginal forest of Plymouth. Forks up at high noon cause you’re dining alfresco and, hey, this is Massachusetts not Florida. Which means you’re gonna have to start those fires the night before and stand guard all night so you don’t burn down the whole bloody settlement. Great.
And you’ve got to behead about eighty turkeys, debone forty eel, peel thirty pumpkins and dig up a recipe for venison stew for one-fifty. No non-stick Pam, Pillsbury croissants, Cool Whip Light; no canned cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin, frozen peas. No Pepperidge Farm stuffing or potato buds. Whoa.
I remember our first big Thanksgiving. I was eight. All the relatives came wearing aprons and oven mittens. The only non-relatives were my father’s roommate from college and his son, Leonard. Leonard was my age and would eat only fluffernutters. Wonder Bread, Marshmallow Fluff, and Skippy. My mother thought this was an insult and cut them off the future Thanksgiving list. My second cousin, Bea, brought her traditional oyster stuffing. God, I can still smell it. I remember that particular Thanksgiving not because of all the relative ladies doing dishes and all the relative men drinking manhattans watching black and white football, but because it was the day of my first experience with humiliation.
We were all seated at what had become a card table train. Kids at the caboose end; adults in the locomotive. And then it happened. It was my aunt. Clink. Clink. “Let’s have… Mary say grace”. She knew perfectly well that I had been ousted from Sunday school years before for a minor infraction and that her daughter, two years my junior, had six Sunday school pins stacked on her navy church coat. A pall hung over the table. They all knew. As a slow cranberry blush emerged from my white Peter Pan collar and oozed its way up my face, I contemplated the obvious. “God’s neat. Let’s eat”. “Rub a Dub Dub, thanks for the grub”. Amen. But I couldn’t do that to my sweet mother who had gotten up at five am to D&C the turkey. I did as my aunt knew I would, as they all knew, I turned to my cousin and admitted, “I can’t. You do it.”
Years later, when I was single and living in Manhattan, I called my mother and told her I was going to a fasting spa for Thanksgiving. The only way I could think of to avoid the reckless consumption of ten thousand calories. In the Thanksgiving theme I chose a spa in Neversink, N.Y. So named because a famous Leni Lenapi chief, cut down by a jealous rival, was weighted with large granite boulders and buried in the river. However, local lore states, every third full moon he would eerily rise to the surface. Hence, Neversink.
This spa was truly a fasting spa. Three watery liquid meals a day to be consumed one microscopic teaspoonful at a time. Fifteen calories max. On the sideboard were herbal teas labeled for whatever ailed you. One in case you passed out during dinner. Chanting, yoga, spiritual hikes and two bag enemas a day. What a place.
How did I spend turkey day you say? They had a toning treatment, wherein, after rubbing you down with green Dippity-Doo, they wrapped your entire body, legs together, arms to your sides, in large strips of adhesive tape. Like a mummy. Then the spa bouncer came in, picked you up like a large bowling pin, laid you on one of those metal hospital tables, turned on a collection of harp music from Handel and turned out the lights. I immediately started to sweat. Not from adhesive burn, but extreme claustrophobia. The next thing I knew, I was vividly hallucinating and screaming the one word that filled my bound, immobile body with complete terror. FIRE.
I ended the afternoon, following a light-headed spell in the Japanese bath, with the resident homeopath. White caftan. Not a stethoscope in sight. He had a large sketch of an eyeball in front of him. On this he copied every line, dot, flaw in my eyes. Like foot reflexology, every line in the eye referenced a body part in trouble. He studied his sketch for an interminable amount of time. I could have told him what was wrong. I was STARVING. He finally looked up at me and delivered a word of diagnosis I shall never forget. BLOCKAGE. The cure? A high colonic.
Ever since this experience, I have not strayed from the traditional Thanksgiving approach. Orange and brown. Turkey hand pictures with moveable tails on the fridge. Cornucopia spewing walnuts, gourds and persimmons on the table. Everything cooked from the “Williamsburg Cookbook”. No polenta. No risotto. No deviations. No decisions. Well, except this year. When I went to order the turkey. Did I want an organic, purist turkey that was… sorry about that … frozen, or a fresh turkey that had been hanging around the turkey house eating Cheez-its. Only my guests will know.