by Prissy Elrod | November 19, 2020

A Half-Crazy, Half-Home-Cooked Thanksgiving

You never know who—or what—might show up at Prissy Elrod’s Thanksgiving table.

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Illustration by Stephen Lomazzo

I’ve heard it said if one says they’re crazy, they probably aren’t. I love the person who declared that. No doubt they were probably crazy and used that statement for cover. So, I’m crazy. Which means I’m not. Remember that, OK?

My people (aka my family) are though. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I could tell you why—all those stories—but don’t dare. I have Thanksgiving table to share, you know. Honestly, I thought we were normal until my unnamed girlfriend told me otherwise. It happened as we slurped tomato soup at Panera Bread.  

“How was your Thanksgiving? Who came this year?” she asked.

“The usual. Oh, and my sister’s ex-husband came too. She just chewed her turkey and dressing sitting between both her husbands: number one and number two,” I laughed.

 “Prissy, you know that’s not normal, right?”  

“Why not? They still travel together when they see their son.”

I wouldn’t know then we were one step away from reality TV.

Inclusiveness is important to me. Maybe to the extreme.  Like the time Boone, my late husband, was dying. The cemetery where I planned to bury him (next to his mother and father) was full. “No more plots,” they assured me. How could I let him be buried in a cemetery with no one he knew? I wouldn’t. So, I had his parents unearthed, which sounds better than dug up. The hardened red clay and years of patina covered both caskets as they were moved by flatbed truck, lying side by side, to the only cemetery available for Boone. They were interred to a new home and awaited their boy’s arrival. I was relieved to know he wouldn’t be alone.

If I can help it, no one would ever be alone. Well, unless they wanted to be. It’s the same rule with Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have an open invitation. That can be tricky sometimes. Like the time I sat down and knew no one at the dining table on Thanksgiving. Where was my family? In another room telling jokes. I introduced myself to the stranger sitting next to me. “You look so familiar,” I said buttering my sourdough biscuit.  “Yes, I’ve seen you before,” she replied. “Really, where?” I asked.  “I think Publix, I work in the bakery.” Of course, that’s it. I thought. Had I invited her to Thanksgiving and forgotten? Later, I learned I hadn’t. Rather, she was my sister’s husband’s stepfather’s daughter by his first marriage. Who knew?

TURKEY TALK

Honestly, I think mothers might be the main ingredient in the recipe of life. They can be sweet, spicy, or sour; we absorb their flavor. My mother was a colorful character who was sweet, spicy, and seldom sour. But that woman had no filter. None. Zip. Zero. Ask anybody. No, ask everybody.

Example One: I took her to Walgreens and heard my name hollered from aisle eight as I shopped aisle one. “Prissy, where are the Glycerin suppositories?” I pretended not to know her, so she hollered louder, then even louder. I feared the intercom next.

Example Two: The time I was standing in line for the next available toilet inside New York’s La Guardia airport. My mother hollered from inside the toilet stall she occupied. “EWWW, somebody must have eaten mustard greens last night!” My girlfriend in the toilet stall next to her had. I could keep going. Cajun, Creole, and 100 percent Italian, she was a germ and chemical phobic. Think Howard Hughes with high heels. It’s a mighty good thing we loved her since she could make a sane person snap. Sadly, she is gone now and can’t defend herself. I’m telling you she would have no defense. The woman was obsessed with organic food, clothes and cleaning supplies. She was aware of all the dangers lurking out there long before the FDA mentioned, argued or banned it. Her two Yorkie dogs lived to be seventeen after a life of only organic dog food and bottled water. I blame my mother’s New Orleans—LeBlanc people—for passing the crazy genes to her, then on to my sisters… and a few to me, maybe. My daddy’s people were Alabama normal. Where’d that gene go?

“Prissy, where are the Glycerin suppositories?” I pretended not to know her, so she hollered louder, then even louder. I feared the intercom next.

The first Thanksgiving with our two new sons-in law, after my daughters married, my husband Dale warned I buy more food, expect large appetites. “Men eat more than your daughters, Prissy.”

I listened for once and bought a ginormous rib roast to serve with the colossal turkey. Double the meat should do it, I thought. Of course, every morsel organic or mymother would challenge me. I was impressed with myself when the preparation was finished, especially since I seldom cooked beef. I watched as my husband carved the expensive prime rib and served up the medium-rare slice to our newest son-in-law. He held out his plate with a thank-you grin.

“Yuck, you know that stuff sits in your colon three days before you poop it out,” my vegan mother hollered from her end of the table. And twice. Just in case everyone missed it the first time. By the way, the hard of hearing holler. It’s a fact, so ready yourself.

“What is wrong with your family?” Said the groom to his bride. “Can’t they eat one meal without talking about their bowels or digestion?” Let me answer him again…umm, no!

FAKE IT, DON’T MAKE IT

Fast forward a few years later. It was another Thanksgiving as I stood twelve patrons deep in a line inside the produce department of Whole Foods. I inhaled the scent of roasted coffee wafting through the air. I craved a rich shot of espresso but dared not lose my place in line for the treat. The weather outside was crisp, so I’d worn a white turtleneck and down vest. The overheated store created my sudden hot flash. I felt the perspiration pool in the cleavage of my breast and peeled off the vest and stuffed it inside my oversized purse. A gray-haired lady nearby yacked on her phone. I use the word lady lightly here. She was enraged and ranted her anger. Clearly, she forgot Thanksgiving was not for giving someone a piece of her mind. The outburst should have annoyed me, but I was in a good mood thanks to two of my favorite emotions: patience and pleasure. They came along to keep me company. I heard my number called and collected my order. I left Whole foods with a box larger than me.

As I pulled into the garage, I honked for my husband. He came out and unloaded the box of magnificence and hauled it to the kitchen. My prewarmed oven awaited as I unpacked and slid the oversized turkey inside the large roasting pan. I transferred moist dressing and fragrant squash casserole into two separate three-quart Pyrex dishes and placed them in a second warmed oven. I emptied buttery green beans inside my Le Creuset Dutch oven and set the burner to simmer, then poured thick, warm gravy from the Styrofoam container into a large pot. I turned the burner to simmer. Within ten minutes the aroma of the whole kit and caboodle (no pun intended) fragranced my kitchen.

 “Wow, it smells fantastic,” my husband said as he collected emptied containers. I was transferring the cranberry salad into my crystal bowl when my eye caught him stuffing all the used containers inside the kitchen garbage can. “Stop! What are you doing?” I snapped. “They can’t go in there, someone will see them. Put them inside a black trash bag, and stick it in the car.”

It was my third year faking my home-cooked feast. I was good at it. Too good. I rechecked my set table for who knew how many guests. The succulents, rustic tree branches, berries and fresh magnolia leaves filled my bowl centered on the table. I lit new black raspberry candles and inhaled the scent of vanilla, light musk and raspberry. I’d found paper plates, placemats and napkins that matched my nature-inspired theme to a T. How I loved my easy, disposable Thanksgiving.

After a quick shower, I applied fresh makeup, slipped on black slacks and a cream turtleneck then clipped my long hair into a messy bun. The doorbell rang as I sprayed perfume on my neck and studied my reflection in the mirror. I had tutored my smart husband, so he knew the drill as he answered the door and greeted our first guest. Soon, the rest of the herd arrived.

My appetite is insatiable, not for the food so much, as it is for the conversations from those next to me.

“It smells wonderful in here … the table looks fantastic… love the succulents… where did you get the paper goods…” They complimented as I smiled. I thanked everyone for the kind words, and then heard the same someone ask the same question for the third year.

 “Wow, you made all this food, Prissy?” A backward truth fell off my tongue. “Yes, I did” Well, I made it happen. My conscience was clear.

As we gathered with family, friends and even friends of friends, I reflected on Thanksgivings of yesteryears and how the decades had multiplied. I had brined and roasted hundreds of turkeys over my lifetime. Some were alive only hours before our first bite, and that bite was filled with “overkill” pellets scattered inside the gobbler on my embellished table. Compliments of my late husband, an avid hunter.

I flashed back to another time when my dear mother volunteered to make the family turkey. I was skeptical since she’d never made a turkey in her life. Cooking was not her forte. Even so, I agreed. I mean, she was my mother. The turkey looked wonderful. “Good for her!” I thought. That was until everyone took their first bite. It was as if the scene was choreographed. Everyone at the table spit out the mouthful of tofu turkey in unison. And no one ever trusted her food again.

As time goes by, my ornate china, crystal, sterling, and hem-stitched napkins remain untouched on the shelves inside my dining room closet. They are elegant and timeless treasures I’ve collected for years. Yet, they are useless for this user. I’m tired of breaking down post-Thanksgiving tables and washing china, crystal and silver that isn’t dishwasher safe. I’m disinterested in ironing delicate linen napkins. I’m tired of all the preparations. Mostly, I’m tired.

 Perhaps, the change seeded from too much heartache too close together. I soulfully discovered food and finery across my dining table—or how it got there— matters little. The epicurean banquet I hunger for, what I want to devour, is what encircles my table. It sits on my left, to my right, across and outstretched to each end. My appetite is insatiable, not for the food so much, as it is for the conversations from those next to me…the tangible ones. I mask the quiet yearning in my heart and soul for the intangible, those departed, now gone forever. Oh, I so deeply miss them all. I am greedy for seconds, even thirds from those I cherish still sitting at my table.

My THANKS-giving is for GIVING-thanks. It can be spelled forward or backward. The synonyms: Love, sharing, inclusiveness. It is nothing more and nothing less for me.

As Thanksgiving 2020 sits around the corner we have a new normal. It’s called abnormal. If saying you’re crazy makes you not crazy, does saying you are abnormal make you normal? I hope so, but I give up! At any rate, it looks like this year my family—crazy as they, okay we, are—will settle into our crazy, abnormal year quite well. For that, I am more than grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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