Old Foe, We Meet Again: When the Turkeys Steal My Birthday Thunder

There is a picture of me in the family photo album dressed as a little lady pilgrim, standing next to a little Indian boy with construction paper feathers in a construction paper headband. It was taken in 1994 when I was a wee kindergartner.

The story of Thanksgiving that I remember being taught throughout elementary school was that of cold, hungry pilgrims at Plymouth Rock who were blessed by the goodwill and gracious hearts of the Native American people. They feasted together, and ever since that fateful November day, we’ve honored their kindness with a day full of great family and good food.

During the month of November, I perfected my hand-turkey drawings, created centerpieces out of pinecones and colored numerous cornucopias, all of which were plastered to the fridge. But did I love Thanksgiving? I certainly did not. My birthday has fallen either on or after Thanksgiving every year of my life, and my idea of a great birthday celebration did not contain weird aunts and uncles and a turkey dinner. While the sentiments behind Thanksgiving were warm and fluffy, the holiday was an affront to me personally.

Over the years, the Robbins family Thanksgiving feasts have varied in dysfunction and passive aggression. My mom still tells the story of her sister bringing a bag of raw potatoes to dinner one year when she had been asked to bring mashed potatoes. Another notable story is of the Thanksgiving shortly before my first birthday; the same aunt hosted the dinner at her house and her two kittens attacked the thawing turkey, ate as much of it as they could and promptly threw it back up. Ah, family…

Ever the optimistic traditionalist, I fully subscribed to the “Precious Moments” version of Thanksgiving until high school. By the time I learned of the gruesome fate that befell the Plymouth colony — half of the original passengers on the Mayflower died in the eight months between landing and the first Thanksgiving — and learned that the Native American populations of the Americas had been destroyed by the disease-riddled Europeans, I was already a passive teenager who didn’t care all that much. All I cared about was the fact that I had to give up a day of my life to being on my best behavior for my crazy relatives while enduring my mom’s stress-induced rage directed at the turkey and anyone who inquired about it.

During freshman year of college, nothing sounded better than a big, warm meal created by my very own mother. As we all know, Thanksgiving is not just a home-cooked meal, it is a home-cooked meal in its Sunday best.

In our household, it’s characterized by recipes that go no less than 10 generations worth of good old American Thanksgiving delicacies. There were golden brown turkeys, the finest stuffing, the most succulent squashes and cranberry sauce from scratch. I’d been cooking quesadillas and frozen lasagnas throughout my first couple months of college, and while Stouffer’s does a great job in the pre-packaged meal department, they can’t hold a candle to my old lady.

With age and absence, I had come to find that Thanksgiving dinner was actually the perfect birthday dinner feast. It also helps that the crazy relatives have largely relocated, making Thanksgiving Day a much more stress- and dysfunctional-free day for “Head Chef Mom.” She’s much more pleasant without them.

I’m sure you can imagine my excitement for the upcoming dinner. I haven’t been home since July and from the sound of it, I’m in for a home-cooked extravaganza of good foods. I actually look forward to tearing up loaf after loaf of bread the night before for the next day’s stuffing. I don’t mind that I’m going to have to touch that big, uncooked turkey with my bare hands – okay, I do mind, but I’ll do it anyway.

However, I can’t help but look to the future. I’ve heard, “Ugh, you’re just like mom” from my brother enough to know that one day it’ll be me in that kitchen cursing at the turkey and vaguely threatening crazy relatives. Thanksgiving, we may be tight now, but I don’t know how much longer this relationship will last.