Monday, November 19, 2018

Small Thanksgiving

This morning my husband's stress meter was set to Apocalypse even before he stepped on the candy shard. I'd just gotten into the shower when he made a noise like Chewbacca. "I just stepped on a tiny sharp white thing!" he shouted.

"The dog got into your peppermint Life Savers!" I shouted back.

He growled again. My husband, I mean. It's not my fault the dog found his Life Savers but it is my fault that we have a dog. And I thought I'd cleaned up the mess, but the bathroom floor is speckled shiny white and blue tile and those pieces were hard to see.

"If I cut my foot I can't have surgery!" he said. This is true.

"Put on some socks!" I said back. I'm pretty sure Life Savers aren't sharp enough to penetrate the thick socks he wears.

My husband has been having a rough time. This morning he was still on call for his practice, about to go perform surgery, and less than 24 hours from a total knee replacement. That he's receiving, not performing. Also his tooth still hurt. His mind was running an auto-loop of all the things that could go wrong with his knee, and it was not effective to try to reassure him because just recently everything possible went wrong with one of his teeth. Three root canals. Extraction. Dry socket. Heavy antibiotics because of the pending knee surgery.  He's lost 15 pounds in the last few weeks simply because it hurt too much to eat.

He's having his knee replaced because he has no cartilage left. When he was a boy he fractured his patella playing baseball and it healed with a sharp internal edge. He's had repeated surgeries on that knee and we've known for awhile that a joint replacement was only a matter of time. He hoped, however, for a little more time.

I'm optimistic. He, right now, is not. Did I mention the time he ruptured his Achilles? That hurt. A lot. Still does. Then there's the shoulder surgery....orthopedists love the man.

As do I. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving is going to be small this year. It's funny to me how my holidays flip-flopped. When I was a child Thanksgiving was sacrosanct. It would take place either at my house or my aunt's house, but it always, always involved the same family and the same food and the same card games. Christmas changed from year to year. Thanksgiving never did.

Then I grew up. My children have known a never-changing Christmas. We found a good set of rituals early and kept them. It's been rare for us to have family visiting on Christmas and we never travel. The only big change is that now that they're adults they don't wake us up at four am. Thanksgiving has been our variable holiday--different family, different friends, different food. We've traveled and hosted friends and been hosted by friends, and all of it has been lovely, but not this year.

This year will be the four of us. I had family willing to come and I told them no. My husband will be two days postop, sleeping in my office. My children don't arrive home until late Wednesday night. I floated the idea of getting our turkey from Bojangles this year. (For my Yankee friends, that's a Southern fast-food fried chicken chain.) Bojangles deep-fries turkeys. I always thought deep-fried turkeys sounded interesting but also, in my hands, a near-guaranteed way to set the house on fire. We all like Bojangles, especially my son, who hung out there after school with his friends so often in high school that the manager gave them all t-shirts.

But the children protested mightily, and finally I got to the root of their unhappiness, which was, you can't stuff a deep-fried Bojangles turkey with my grandmother's stuffing.

My grandmother's stuffing--made primarily of saltine crackers and bacon--is legend. It achieves greatness only by being cooked inside the bird--you can't get anything close to the same texture or taste without it absorbing all the poultry juice and drippings. It is magical. I cram that turkey as full as possible with the stuffing; no matter how much I make, there are nearly no leftovers.

Ok. I understood. Grandma's stuffing had to be on the table. But that caused me to rethink the entire menu. What if, instead of making all the dishes I usually did, I only made what mattered most?

Turkey with stuffing. My daughter added cranberries. My husband added our traditional sweet potato casserole. My son added Sister Schubert's pan rolls. (Those come frozen in Southern grocery stores.) We thought hard about dessert and decided to go with fancy ice cream. The end.

It will be plenty to be thankful for.