The Urban Family Thanksgiving

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As I’ve become an adult, and moved from city to city, making loads of friends along the way, I find myself celebrating holiday meals more frequently with my urban families. And I quite like it. Sure, nothing is better than waking up in your childhood bed, in your childhood house, to smell pancakes being cooked and coffee being perked. But with your urban family, you don’t have to watch your mouth. You can bitch about your nuclear family. You can drink wine to your heart’s content without your mother giving you the “how many glasses is that, young lady?” eye. It’s a whole different kind of holiday ritual.

There have been two memorable Thanksgiving celebrations with urban families. One that I recall with great fondness again and again—and one that gives me incredible heartburn.

My husband and I were living in Seattle. It was the first holiday we decided to stay put and not fight the crowds and high airplane ticket prices to spend the holiday with either of our families, who lived far from our cloudy, wet corner of the country. We were perfectly happy spending Thanksgiving in our downtown Seattle loft watching football, old movies, and eating turkey. However, we received a last-minute invitation from a friend of a friend that somehow convinced us to agree to attend what will forever be known as “The Thanksgiving we transported a turkey across town and nearly got kicked out of dinner.”

Three Southern Belles, whom we were only vaguely friends with, were hosting dinner. They seemed nice enough and we thought they had the southern manners to go with their sugary sweet accents. But, when we asked what to bring to dinner, the answer was not a salad or a bottle of wine, which is standard. They asked us to bring the turkey. The freaking turkey! We were asked to cook a turkey for a dinner party of twelve people—barely knowing only three of the attendees—and transport it across town to the hostesses’ house.

Yes, it’s as odd and backward as it sounds. But we did it. We decided to seize the opportunity, summon our inner chefs and create the most gourmet ten-pound turkey possible. We made a homemade herb butter and lovingly coated that turkey inside and out with a blanket of herby goodness. We watched the big bird cook for five hours becoming more and more succulent with every increase of the thermometer. We withstood pestering phone calls from Southern Belle #1 every thirty minutes wondering, “What are y’all doing? Are y’all about ready to come over? We’re all real hungry over here.” With great trepidation we transported the large, golden, buttery bird in the floorboard of our small car across town. We presented it with the pride of new parents.

Then we saw the messy smorgasbord of bagged salad, bottled dressing, and a casserole made of potatoes and cheese topped with cornflakes. Our eyes, mouths, and shoulders instantly sank. And from there, the meal went downhill fast. Not only was the Southern Belles’ Thanksgiving dinner a joke of gastronomic proportions—with the exception of our turkey, of course—we had to begin the dinner by taking turns saying what we were thankful for. Why? Because it was a tradition in Southern Belle #2’s household in Georgia to do so, and she just hated parting with tradition. Silently I wondered if asking the guest to bring the turkey and serving crap casserole was part of her “tradition” too.

Staring at a lifeless salad that only recently lived in a bag, a casserole topped with breakfast—both of which were sitting next to our championship turkey—we decided it was too much to bear. We got drunk. We got surly. We got ourselves uninvited to any forthcoming Thanksgiving dinners at the home of the Southern Belles. It was for the best.

A few years later, after swearing off urban family Thanksgivings, the hubby and I received an intriguing invitation to spend Thanksgiving dinner in a parking lot with our very dear friends. This wasn’t just any parking lot; it was the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Being raised near Kansas City, I’ve been a Chiefs fan my entire life. They were playing the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day—always an epic game. My husband is a Denver Broncos fan and our friends who live in Kansas City are Chiefs fans.

These particular friends are the kind of people who turn their home into a bed and breakfast every time we visit them. They have a schedule of events ready for us that rivals an all-inclusive resort. Since we felt like all the elements were in order to have a memorable holiday, we accepted. We were treated to a day that went down in the history books as “The Thanksgiving to End All Thanksgivings.”

The day started in our car, a Chiefs flag attached to the window, lined up to get into the parking lot at the precise time that would ensure we got prime parking in order to tailgate under the best possible conditions. It was sunny, sixty degrees, and we were with our dear friends. It was like having Thanksgiving in Heaven. Knowing we’d flown 1500 miles to enjoy this creative interpretation of a traditional holiday, our dear hosts made every preparation to ensure a turkey dinner that was superior to any meal we would’ve eaten anywhere else. They smoked a turkey. They had stuffing and mashed potatoes warming on a grill. They had hot wassail and cold beers. They made a soundtrack for our tailgate party that included not only AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, and other arena rock songs, but also a little Frank Sinatra Christmas to get us into the holiday spirit. From the back of their SUV, they produced a table, a tent, comfortable seating, and even a turkey shaped chef’s hat to create that in-the-kitchen feeling of having a down-home Thanksgiving meal. After tossing around a football, gazing fondly at Arrowhead stadium and drinking a lot of stiff wassail, we feasted. And it was good. The Chiefs were champs that day, and looking back on the blessed occasion, I shed a tear for the new tradition we created.

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