Weekend Edition: Thanksgiving re-cap

James Bornemeier
James Bornemeier

Now that a decent interval has passed, it seems appropriate to review certain aspects of the Thanksgiving just celebrated.

As is often the case, we traveled to Cape Cod for a gathering with some of my brother’s and his wife’s family. My mother, who turned 101 this year, now spends her holiday in a long-term care home not far away, and is certainly the most perky and with-it character on the floor. She calls her fellow companions “the inmates.”

Our group gets along very amiably. If there is a “Crazy Uncle” in our midst, that would be me. I am prone to speaking with too much candor after a few Manhattans have loosened my tongue. I would say it’s jovial candor, but you never really know how opinions are being received by others. My nephew gives me a run for my money in the Crazy Uncle department with his non-stop vaudeville routine of quips, tales and impersonations.

A few years ago, my nephew’s wife, a woman of great character and poise, astonished me when I saw her down at the other end of the table loading up a small chocolate mint onto her fork in preparation for catapulting it into the air. Soon it was coming my way and I nearly caught it in my mouth, which seemed to be the unspoken goal of the launch. This led to many more launches of mints to and from others. But, sadly, none was caught. One bounced off my glasses, leaving a chocolate smudge, which I proudly admired for days afterward.

This year’s Turkey Day had no similar catapulting but it was a seriously wonderful event nonetheless. I have these stray thoughts:

The Menu. It was a terrific traditional feast with the usual suspects on the buffet table. I passed on some baked root vegetable but took in a lot of everything else. But as tasty as it was and as admirable as all the work it took to prepare, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need another roasted turkey spread in my lifetime. As a kid, we had unforgettable Rockwellian Thanksgiving meals that were exciting for the special foods that showed up. Nondescript by today’s standards, jellied cranberry sauce and green beans with canned fried onion pieces seemed pretty exotic in our Midwestern home. There was always a platter of actual (really) dark meat that only the grownups ate.

Over the years, in dozens of other venues, there have been stabs at innovation, like the three-bird Thanksgiving (roasted, deep fried and barbecued) but it’s been pretty much the same lineup. I don’t have a great suggestion about replacement menus, but I think it would involve seafood. (Lobsters and Wellfleets!) Although that would eliminate the roasting turkey smell in the kitchen region, which is something even I would miss. Maybe there’s a roasting turkey aerosol waiting to be marketed.

Place cards. My brother is a clever fellow and when Thanksgiving is on the Cape, we get place cards. But with a twist. This year the place cards were on every plate with short descriptions of bird species. The idea is to read the various descriptions and guess what species goes with which guest. This provokes much humorous speculation as we try to discern which description best connotes, in my brother’s fiendish mind, the various human personalities around the table. Having been down this road before, I was pretty sure that I would find my name on the American coot description. That was me, the coot.

A few years ago, he opted for descriptions of wines. I wanted desperately to be cabernet sauvignon but got something very close to Thunderbird, absorbing the usual fraternal needle. Twisted Thanksgiving place cards should be mandatory throughout the country.

Needling. On the topic of needles, I would be remiss if I didn’t report on the tweaking of my nephew, who in many respects is more like a favored younger brother. First off, I do not actually know his views on climate change. We have never discussed it. I think I know that he listens to talk radio, and I think I know that it’s the right-wingers. But I don’t definitively know any of this.

During my last visit to the Cape, somehow climate change came up at dinner and I did an over-the-top fake accusation that he was a climate change denier, invoking Limbaugh and Beck. He didn’t take this well and left the table in a huff (but didn’t actually leave the premises). The next morning it was conveyed to me that I wouldn’t let him offer a rebuttal. But it was never supposed to be a real debate, just a teasing rant among pals.

Weeks later in a texting session with him, I seem to recall a sly disarming reference to the event, although I can’t seem to find that text. Based on this flimsy recollection, I surprised myself by hurling the same empty accusation during the recent Thanksgiving visit. It provoked a similar reaction, except this time he left the building. I am happy to report that the next day it was all water under the bridge. I’m dying to do it again.