Jewish Journal


November 22, 2001

Many Thanks


Thanks, but no Thanksgiving. That's my motto for this year.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me that an experience I often dread, one that leaves me emotionally drained and physically stuffed, is totally voluntary. There's no law that says you have to go home for Thanksgiving. The family function police aren't going to come arrest you if you don't show up for turkey duty.

Once I cleared the whole deal with my mom -- who didn't freak out -- it was official. I've resigned from Thanksgiving, or as I've come to call it, Bingegiving.

Take a house. Fill it with people you hardly ever see or haven't met, and spend an entire day dodging awkward conversations with guests huddling in the corner with a Harvey Wallbanger (don't ask, my mother thinks those are still hip). This is a holiday?

Kind soul and famously good cook, my mother always makes a point of inviting everyone with nowhere else to go to our house for the holiday. A generous gesture, this nonetheless transforms the event from family-bonding meal to really early cocktail party.

My brother and I, not usually big drinkers, always find ourselves getting an assist from our friend Harvey Wallbanger to get through the day, and our emotional duties as children of the host. The glut of people, polite chatter, remembering names, filling glasses, the strain of worrying that someone is left out or having a terrible time, the very air, thick with holiday dysfunction and displaced people, makes us need one fat drink after another.

Let's talk about the food. The food:

My mother's homemade bread, warm from the oven; peas dripping with cream; mounds of macaroni and cheese made by my stepfather; pies of every ilk; stuffing; and yams topped with browned marshmallows. Even the salad, made in honor of me, is drenched in dressing and chock full of eggs and nuts.

I don't gorge myself on these items any other day of the year because they simply aren't around. When they are, I can pass them by. On Thanksgiving, it's me locked in a room with mounds of my drug of choice: chow. You throw in intense personal discomfort and worrying about my mother and her aching back -- and whether she should really mix those Wallbangers with back pills -- and you get a day-long binge.

It's like locking an alcoholic in a bar with her mother at happy hour. If drinking and driving kill a friendship, eating and people-pleasing kill the ability to fit into a size 6.

Maybe men won't get this. They sit back and loosen their belts right out in the open, as if to say, "Look at my fat belly. Isn't it great?"

Meanwhile, and I can't speak for all women, but I know I spend the day feeling grossly overstuffed, shocked that I'm eating creamed peas when I haven't properly digested milk since 1976, guilty for not resisting the siren song of the vanilla Häagen-Dazs melting on pumpkin pie.

Obviously, there's only one way to stem the tide of bad feelings -- more peas. This cycle repeats until I feel queasy. I'm having conversations with distant acquaintances of acquaintances thinking, "Blah, blah, blah, do you realize I just gained 9 pounds?"

If you think I'm being shallow, cut me some slack. I didn't invent the sickness that insists American women be thin. I'm just a slave to it.

Let's talk turkey. I don't eat it. I'm not morally against eating meat; I'm a vegetarian because my brother once pointed out that bacon was actually Wilbur, the pig from "Charlotte's Web." Chewing on the flesh of animals is just disgusting to me. A dead bird splayed open and sliced on a table doesn't signify bounty to me, it's just sad.

It's not about the food, you say. It's about being with family. It's about gratitude. Yes.

I see my family pretty frequently. We hang out and talk, or shop, or watch basketball, or tell stories. We get in quality time. Thanksgiving only means we're in the same place, but that's about it.

On gratitude: Not in any formal way, but in my own way, I try to give thanks before I eat every meal, every day. I get shy in front of people, but I usually try to take a couple of deep breaths and silently give thanks. I forget half the time, but the point is, it doesn't escape me how lucky I am for the food that crosses my plate. It doesn't escape me how lucky I am to live in this country, flawed as it may be.

I'm not usually thankful for getting older, but I must say it has its perks. In this case, I'm old enough to realize I don't have to go with the program. I can abstain from rituals that have lost their meaning to me. I can say "no" without fearing the world will crumble around me. I can spend the day reading, watching football, or seeing a matinee, and be thankful for that.

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