I think of Thanksgiving dinner as a military campaign, with a successful outcome requiring planning, execution, monitoring and the final mopping up. Unfortunately, I am the general in charge, and I am ill suited to the task. I don’t like to plan the menu, I don’t like to shop, I don’t like to cook and I certainly don’t like to clean up. Nevertheless, in general, the task falls to me.
Back in the ‘80s, when we were a small, nuclear family — Mom, Dad and sons Scott and
Drew — I cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner every year, and every year my husband, Tyler, would mention that he was not crazy about turkey, and the boys wouldn’t eat much of anything unless forced. I actually love every bit of a classic Thanksgiving dinner, from the canned cranberry sauce right down to the pumpkin pie, but no one else did. It was a struggle to make it a joyous occasion, especially with me resenting the time and effort I’d had to devote to this sad affair.
Finally, when Drew was 5 and Scott 12, I decided “Enough!” and declared we would be going out for Thanksgiving dinner that year. We booked a table at the elegant Kittle House Restaurant in nearby Chappaqua. On Thanksgiving morning, I got to wear some decent clothes that weren’t going to get spattered with turkey fat and put my feet up to read the morning paper (though total relaxation was difficult with the boys complaining about having to dress up). The ride to the restaurant was grimly silent. No one was looking forward to this but me.
The restaurant was full, festive and quietly buzzing with families. I ordered a martini the minute I sat down, which was brought to me by a kindly, attentive waiter. I thought about the lovely turkey dinner I was going to have, with all the trimmings, like the whipped potatoes I was always too lazy to make and the luscious gravy that I didn’t have to stir in a hot kitchen at the last minute. I looked forward to each of the others ordering whatever they liked and being pleased about it — fish for Tyler and steak for the boys. Hooray!
That martini, all icy and silvery, calmed me right down. The boys stopped bickering and actually behaved themselves in the old-fashioned atmosphere of white linen tablecloths and starched napkins. They eagerly ordered soda, not allowed in our house, and Tyler had his favorite drink, a Kir, made to perfection, surprisingly enough. Everyone was happy. We studied our menus. There were many lovely choices.
The waiter glided over after a few minutes to take our order. “I’ll have the traditional turkey dinner,” I said with a smile.
“Me, too,” said Scott.
“Me, too,” said Drew.
I looked at my husband in disbelief at this turn of events. Tyler looked up at the waiter. “Me, too,” he said.
Since then I have executed many Thanksgiving campaigns, with varying degrees of success. Some meals I had catered; others we ate in restaurants. Some years I have actually cooked, with help more recently by young daughters-in-law and grandchildren. But I think more than anything, it was that unexpected Kittle House Thanksgiving that kept me marching forward instead of surrendering.
Brooke McKamy Beebe is the author of Best Bets for Babies and Tips for Toddlers, published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. She is the former director of The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, and prefers gardening to cooking. She is currently a student in Susan Hodara’s memoir workshop.