Saturday, December 23, 2006

An oh-so-timely Thanksgiving blog

There comes a time in the life of every family when the older generation passes on, leaving their bewildered kin groping to establish new traditions while maintaining some semblance of the old ones. At no time is this more keenly felt than the holidays. This year, for the first time in my life, my family did not go home for Thanksgiving.

Home, also known as 208 McTeer Dr. in Kingsport, Tenn., has been slowly but surely purged of all those familiar physical elements that, collectively, established the feel of Thanksgiving, even in my grandparents’ absence. (Pieces of Grandma Jean’s kitchen are far-flung across the country, from Athens, Ga. up to Syracuse, N.Y.) So, with no orange-and-white checkerboard UT flag to greet us, no orange rocker pulled up to the big screen, or cobwebby, plaid La-Z-Boy in the basement corner, no Cheez Doodles resting on the pass-through counter, the Abernathy clan reconvened in Chattanooga this year, at uncle Mike and Paula’s new digs.

When attempting to create a new tradition, one that will hopefully, over time, become as hallowed as the former, you have to be flexible and willing to learn from your mistakes – because, as many of us can attest, when suddenly left to one’s own devices, things don’t always go as swimmingly as one might like. This year’s turkeyfest offered many lessons, despite the fact that this family isn't exactly a bunch of amateurs when it comes to cooking, partying, and eating.

For the first (and most egregious) error of this holiday, I blame my mother. Bless her heart. She means well, and I will say that I generally consider her to be one of the most brilliant people on the face of God’s green earth, but her (ludicrous) suggestion of appetizers before the Thanksgiving meal has got to be one of the worst ideas in all creation. (Sorry, mama.)

The faulty logic here is pretty apparent and hardly necessitates an explanation, so I’ll just assume we all understand each other and move on to the second lesson. Unfortunately, this one is more difficult to remedy; but, with the elimination of problem no. 1, perhaps problem no. 2 won’t be such an issue next go-round.

The beauty part of Kingsport Thanksgivings was that the kitchen, constructed sometime in the early 50s, could hold one cook and perhaps a spectator or two to keep company. In the meantime, the rest of us would loll about in the basement, poring over catalogs and mindlessly eating various incarnations of Hershey's kisses from covered glass dishes. This clever design effectively kept everyone's paws off the goods until it was time.

Matt ponders his Christmas list (aka meal ticket)

Lovely though Uncle Mike's new house may be, it has no such advantage. Christmas-list-makers are relegated to the kitchen table (yikes), in extremely close proximity to aforementioned appetizers (seriously?). Again, no need to spell that one out. But that's not problem no. 2, oh no. Problem no. 2? The ISLAND.

Where in Kingsport it was physically damn near impossible to get at the food, Mike's spacious islanded kitchen seemed like an invitation. So not only did we clean out the appetizers (darn you, Emily, and your delicious crab dip! Even if it was from Cooking Light...), we tucked into the turkey early as well.

The following pictures should pretty well illustrate the issues precipitated by this unfortunate architecture....

"Hands off the goods!" Emily tells Steve...


Jason pays no mind - who could resist this delicious fried turkey?

By the time actual dinner rolled around, I was pretty well stuffed - as we all were. This is a problem. It's no secret that food equals happiness, but when you're starting an amazing meal already uncomfortably full, no good can come of it.

By the end of the night, I think most of us felt a lot like cousin Peyton here:

It's a pretty apt photographic summation of the evening, I'd say; gut-busting deliciousness, but you just can't stop!

So, by next year, I hope Uncle Mike and Paula will have reconsidered the design of their newly minted kitchen - either that, or I'll have developed even the tiniest bit of self-restraint. (Shyeah, right...)

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