We wrested control of Thanksgiving from Mr. Blandings’s mother several years ago. We had a beautiful meal at a lovely table the last time she hosted, but the entire evening was peppered with comments like, “It’s so much trouble,” and, “Next time maybe we should just go out.” As she apologized about the pile of dishes I was gladly tackling (when you don’t cook, you should clean up) she said, “I noticed at the grocery store that you can just tell them the number of people and they will make the whole thing. You can pick it up until noon.” In a moment of pique, up to my elbows in soap suds I said, “Even better, we could just eat at the cafe tables by the deli and throw the whole mess in the trash when we’re finished.” Mr. Blandings, ever even, intervened, “Mom, you’ve done a lot of work for a lot of years, maybe next year we will have Thanksgiving at our house.”
There is a time worn tale about Mr. Blandings, who endured many dressed up and formal Thanksgivings at his grandmother’s, wondering, “Why can’t I have Thanksgiving on my own table?” And now he does. It is the best holiday for cooking. It allows him to plot and plan and test and taste. Our Thanksgiving dinners are not large, but they are homey.
Thanksgiving at my dad’s house is very casual and very big. My step-mother comes from a large family and most of her siblings and their spouses and children are there. In addition, my step-mother is one of those women who collects people, so there are usually five or six holiday strays who join in as well. The first Thanksgiving after we were married, Mr. Blandings and I went to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with my folks. Because of the number of people coming in from out of town, the last couple of times that I had been home I had been farmed out. It just seemed that if we were coming home, we should stay at home.
My dad picked us up at the airport and we caught up on who was coming and what was cooking. “We’re staying at the house, right?” “Uh, yeah.” But there was something. A hesitation. A slight narrowing of his eyes. As we pulled down the windy street and approached the house my pulse began to jump. There was an RV in the driveway. There was an RV in the driveway. “What’s that?” “Why don’t you just leave your bags in the car for now; I’ll bring them in in a bit.”
Seething. Furious. Nearly unable to speak, and frankly, a little embarrassed, I led Mr. Blandings into the house. “I simply cannot believe…” But I turned to him and his eyes were sparkling, “You were the one who said you had to stay at the house. Besides, I’ve never slept in an RV before.” No kidding.
So, our Thanksgivings, the Thanksgivings on Mr. Blandings’s table, fall somewhere in between. We are not in sweats, but neither are we in coat and tie. He cooks the meal and I bake the pie and set the table. We have a Thanksgiving tradition of giving each person at our table a Christmas ornament with dessert. It kicks off the next holiday. I’m in charge of these too, though this year I forgot. I’ve had a couple of big projects in the works and, well, I forgot. Until yesterday when I remembered.
I dashed out to find flowers and ornaments. The last couple of days have been fraught with an odd frustration which has led to an unusual holiday ennui. Dissatisfied with autumnal flowers, I stood at the florists with my arms crossed until I left apologetic and empty handed. The ornament search, which is usually a delight, was illogically frustrating. How could there not be a bear ornament to celebrate the youngest’s part in a school play? What could possibly take its place? All was lost.
And so it went until, home again, I began to bring linens from the closet and china from the cabinet. “It’s so much trouble,” I fretted. “No one notices but me anyway.” I set the entire table on a slightly rumpled tablecloth. Not badly rumpled. Slightly. Who would care?
And since yesterday I had been walking past it. Not only un-ironed, the cloth hung a little longer on the right side than the left. Before I went to bed I tucked it behind a chair.
Up early, I stood in the dining room in the dim light with my coffee cupped in both hands. Nonsense. Completely ridiculous to unload all the plates and silver and glasses. Folly. No one would even know. And then I began to stack the place settings on the window seat in the bay and pull the cloth and napkins to take them upstairs to iron them. It does matter. It matters to me, even if the members of the fraternity with whom I reside never notice. This is just where I want us to be, somewhere between a coat and tie and sweats. Somewhere between the country club and an RV.