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From frozen to family dinner in one swoop

I had planned a quiet Thanksgiving. Just me, all alone, with a Stouffer’s turkey dinner. Sure, it’s pathetic, but I’m not the daughter who married a guy from Charlotte, N.C., whose family might want to see them at Thanksgiving. And, I’m not the son who decided to live in Wilmington, N.C., and do weight loss counseling, when there are perfectly good overweight people here … not that I know any. So, we all know whose fault it was that I’d be eating Stouffer’s turkey all alone on Thanksgiving … but, you know me, I don’t complain.

In a fit of self-pity, though, I decided to call Rob and tell him to drop whatever plans he’d made with friends, because he was coming for Thanksgiving, because I’m still the boss of him. To his credit, he agreed … after the most long-suffering sigh he could disgorge.

Louise and Chuck said they’d come up the day after, because I threatened to cut them out of the will if I don’t see Charlie, Georgie and Gracie at least twice a month, plus every holiday, including Arbor Day. (They have no idea that this big inheritance is about $35.62 — keep that to yourself.)

Then, my parents — who had previously been “too old to run around for Thanksgiving” — called and said they had plane reservations … surprise!

The next day, my sister called from Ohio and said she and her daughter and her daughter’s fiance were coming, and that meant her other daughter, Becky, and her son-in-law, Ryan, who already live in Raleigh, N.C., were going to come, too, instead of going to a friend’s house.

It’s not that I didn’t want everyone here, but when they come, it’s sort of like a severe weather event: at some point, you’ll want to take cover in a closet with no windows. Mom and Karen argue over dressing spices; Ryan and Rob carry in logs, tramping mud through the living room and starting a fire without opening the flue; Becky and Caroline argue while setting the table; and all Dad wants to do is repair everything in the house that is broken (or break everything that isn’t).

It also seems that whenever I have large groups of family here, it’s either in response to, or a precursor of, some kind of emergency medical situation for me, although that could possibly be a subconscious yearning on my part for the serenity of the emergency room. Either way, it’s fairly stressful.

So, I schlepped to the store and bought the necessities: a turkey, some cranberries, a few sweet potatoes, a cake mix and two bottles of Honey Bourbon. If they wanted more than that, they could schlep themselves to the store. My parents arrived Wednesday afternoon, Rob came Wednesday night and arrived right before my sister, niece and almost-nephew. (Becky and Ryan have a tiny little house with nowhere to put anybody, which I’m positive was their sneaky little intention. Plus, they’re still newlyweds, and the only thing there is to do at their house is watch them stare at each other and smile and call each other cutesy nicknames, which no one can watch for long without losing their entire Thanksgiving dinner.)

My sister, Karen, God love her, makes amazing dressing, and this has been her assigned task every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner since she was old enough to scream, “Get out of my way or start chopping!” So, I let her do that while I prepared the turkey — and by that I mean I told Dad to prepare the turkey, because I am certainly not going to stick my hand in there. (Once, my sister and I decided we could get the packages out of the turkey all by ourselves, and we made so many incredibly “gross” discoveries — and comments — that we began laughing, which escalated into painful, gasping, on-the-floor hysterics, and the turkey never got done, so Dad had to do it anyway. I took that as a sign: This is a man’s job, just like carving, and opening the wine … and fixing anything under the sink, moving the sofa wherever you want it and controlling the remote. Women just need to accept these things and move on.)

So, my sister’s making dressing, my dad’s pulling disgusting things out of the turkey and asking for a “Phillip’s head” (like there’s any such thing) and directions to the hardware store, my mom’s chopping celery, one niece is boiling sweet potatoes while her sister puts together a green bean casserole. There’s yelling, there’s arguing, there’s laughing, there’s chaos, and I — well, there’s no room for me in the kitchen, darn it, so I just sit at the table and watch. Thank God I remembered the Honey Bourbon.

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at vwentz@mindspring.com.

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