Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lauren v. Dysfunctional Thanksgiving

Every year for the past ten years the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been labeled "Dysfunctional Thanksgiving".  The name came about from my group of friends referring to ourselves as the "dysfunctional family".  Like I said, for nine years there is a day where I beat the shit out of myself for about ten hours to put on a Thanksgiving dinner for my friends.  It is also the day that most people learn to avoid me or at least avoid pissing me off.

When I was twenty-one, I moved out of my mom's house.  I was still in college, working three different jobs that were all about to end, and was about to be the only female in a three bedroom apartment.  I started going to the Giant in Middletown and during the holiday season was asked if I'd like my "turkey certificate".  Using a phrase that my friend Gina and I have coined, I looked at her like Lincoln (Lincoln is my jug that tilts her head when you talk to her) and then said sure.

There it was, right in my grubby little hands (I was broke, they probably were a little grubby) was a certificate for a free turkey.  Free?  Nothing was free (something I was rapidly learning after the first three months on my own).  Plus, it's turkey.  It's not spaghetti or canned ravioli.  It's real food like the kind I ate when I lived at home and could afford food.  I drove the whole way home in glee (OK, so the store was like a block and a half from my apartment -- it was a gleeful block), threw open the door, and made a turkey declaration (probably something to the effect of "we're getting a fucking free turkey)(wow, 21 year me old has a foul mouth).  My roommate Andrew then looked at me like Lincoln and asked "do you know how to cook a turkey?"  Well, shit.

I had no idea how to cook a turkey, I didn't have the proper equipment, and I'm pretty sure our oven was partially defective.  I called my mom and - with infinite patience - she walked me through preparing a turkey.  I took pages of notes with footnotes that said things like "what is basting?" and "why do I have to thaw it for four days and only cook it for six hours?"  Needless to say, without my mom there, I was flying blind.

I started thawing.  I compiled a guest list and then set about calling everyone (texting wasn't a thing back then) I was friends with.  Out of fifteen calls, I had thirteen guests, plus myself and one of the roommates (the other one had become a figment of our imaginations.  He wrote out a rent check every month, but other than that we never saw him, except twice, and we'll talk about that later).  I called my mom again.

"Will a twenty pound turkey feed fifteen people?"
"Who are you feeding?"
I started naming names and she said "probably not, but give it a shot."

On the day, I cleaned the kitchen from floor to ceiling (yes.  ceiling.  I lived with two boys, who were just gross most of the time).  I chopped celery and onions until my hands stank to high heaven.  I peeled, chopped, and mashed potatoes.  I stirred the ingredients of green bean casserole.  I tried my hand at homemade pie crust, failed miserably, and bought a pumpkin pie.  I basted, basted, basted, and then I basted some more.  By the end, I had a moderately golden brown turkey, green bean casserole with burnt fried onions (back then, I didn't realize you didn't bake it the whole time with the onions on it), a boatload of stuffing, and lumpy mashed potatoes (my roommate demanded the lumps).

Fifteen of us spread around my apartment, putting our plates on any surface that would hold them.  We ate, we drank (a lot in those days), and it was a great time.  I decided we'd save the dishes for later (they didn't get done that night.  In fact, there was a brief stand off about the dishes for a couple of days).  We made sure that everything was turned off, packed ourselves up, and headed to the bar.

Over the past ten years, the food has gotten much better (I still don't made homemade pie crust) and the company has changed.  The location has switched as many times as I've moved (Middletown, Harrisburg, Millersburg, and then two different locations in Mechanicsburg).  The turkey has gotten bigger, basting has gone away, and the onions on the casserole are never burnt.

The fact that everything runs smoothly now is mostly because I make myself crazy that day.  I swear a lot.  I bite people's heads off.  I wash my hands raw.  I always fret over the amount of food to make.  I'm a basket case on the day of dysfunctional.  I now have friends that are adults and come over to help or offer to make things (sooooo not the case when I was 21).  Another bonus of being older is that they also help clean up before the leave me all alone to pass out wherever I stopped moving.

Last night was the night and it was no different.  I made a boatload of food and will be doing part II of dinner tonight to get rid of some of the leftovers.  The company was excellent, although I had some last minute unexpected guests (which is okay now, but pissed me off at the time).  It was the smallest crowd I've had, so in turn, it's the most leftovers.  There may be part III, IV, and V to dysfunctional Thanksgiving.

The pain is entirely worth it in the end.

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