Crónica de una Thanksgiving Anunciada

They wonder why we drink.

For once, I got started early on my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner, a pumpkin cheesecake with a cranberry glaze. It’s something of an old standby, can be made the night before, and I get better at making it every time. And this time, since I wasn’t running around like a panicky ferret, it came out spectacularly: the dough for the crust was even and smooth, the filling mixed right up and set evenly in the pan, all was well in Chris-world. Then I made the glaze, which contains gelatin to harden it up. It’s supposed to harden within an hour after you pour it on and throw the whole conflagration into the fridge.

It didn’t. Around 2 AM (four hours after putting it in the fridge), I started to panic and poured myself a Manhattan. It helped, and by helped I mean put me to bed. By morning the thing had congealed nicely, so I threw it in an insulated tote along with a few bottles of white wine and we headed off to Orange County around 11. Every year I swear we eat earlier. We used to eat at 5. Last year, it was at 3. This year it was scheduled for 1 (a slow-roasting turkey delayed it till 2 though). If it’s at 11 AM next year I think I’ll need an extra bottle of champagne.

It was gorgeous weather, as usual, although it was a bit hot. It got hot enough that my aunt went to turn on the air conditioner, forgetting that it was broken. It’s been broken since the summer, but in her infinite logic, she has resolved to wait until the dead of winter to get it fixed, reasoning that nobody wants their A/C fixed in January. That may well be, but I’m pretty sure plenty of people want their heaters fixed in January, and since they tend to be the same repairmen (all A/C and heat in California is electric…we don’t have separate gas or oil heaters), I just sighed and took a swig of wine. ::glug glug::

The reluctant turkey finally got up to 165 degrees and the dinner began. There were 12 people at this year’s Thanksgiving, and for once, we were all scattered around the table, when usually all the “kids” are at one end and the “adults” at the other, to facilitate each group bitching at the other. This may have been prompted by my cousin’s baby, which made it impossible to keep up the pretense that we’re all still 6 and drink Martinelli’s sparkling cider and not Veuve Clicquot NV Brut. Said baby is an absolute delight. She never cried once, only pooped once, and eagerly ate anything mushy we pushed in her direction. She was particularly fond of Jell-O, which is nice because it takes the Jell-O onus off of me. You see, I’m picky about my Jello. Some lazy people shortcut the Jell-O making process and throw ice cubes into the mixture to speed up the setting of the gel. When this abhorrent shortcut is used, the last little speck of ice remaining from the cube leaves a hard little nodule in the middle of the Jell-O, so you’re eating Jell-O with a bunch of little hard specks in it, which drives me batty. Ever since I was a child I exasperated my relatives by exposing their slipshod Jell-O making. No one was safe. So still, every time there’s Jell-O in the same ZIP code, I’m asked if it was made with ice. This still happened this year, annoying me into taking another swill from the champagne bottle. ::glug glug::

So I was throttling through my first glass of bubbly and my cousin M was drinking a glass of Riuníte. My mom gets mad at me for bringing champagne when that side of my family thinks Riuníte is the bee’s knees. I admit I love Boone’s Farm and Paul Masson as much as the next wino, but I can’t abide having roasted turkey, real mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, homemade rolls, and 6 dollar fruit punch wine. But, to each their own. So M was on her second half-glass of Riuníte, when her grandma starts in on her. As a side note, Grandma T is a miserable old bat who complains non-stop and probably has a brain tumor, given that she gets vertigo every 3.5 milliseconds. That being said, T announces loudly to the table “Look at Michelle! Drinking wine like there’s no tomorrow! She begged me and begged me to quit smoking, so I did, and she’s over there getting drunk! {Did I mention Riuníte is like 5% alcohol?} I shouldn’t have quit smoking cause she’s not worth it!”

Now, since I’ve been admonished by mom to keep my trap shut in all matters T, I couldn’t say either of the things going through my head, one of which was “She didn’t want you to stop smoking for her, T, she wanted you to stop smoking so you could be healthy. If you’re too selfish to realize that, maybe you should start smoking again,” and the second of which was “If we all make your life so miserable, T, why don’t you made good on your semi-hourly threats to die and then won’t we be sorry?” But I couldn’t, so I poured myself another glass of champagne.

Then mom decided to make fun of Uncle B, which is something of a tradition among mom and her sisters (one of whom is married to B). Now, B is a wonderful familyman, excellent provider, brilliant businessman, and all-around amiable guy. But in terms of common sense, he couldn’t find his way out of an empty room. He has no idea where glasses or silverware are in his kitchen, he has no idea what light switch controls what light, and so forth. So we make fun of this. This time, mom chided his vanity by saying he has a bald spot. That got T (B’s mom) even more mad at our side of the family. Ma tried to backtrack by noting that she’s getting a bald spot too, and hey, Chris has one and he’s only 23! At which point all heads turned to me, as if expecting a bald spot to materalize on my forehead due to the sheer heat of their gaze. I think that one prompted a shotgunning of that newly poured glass. As I was refilling with red Zinfandel, I turned to Michelle and noted, “and they wonder why we drink.”

After dinner, we went upstairs to see Uncle B’s holiday train set and Christmas scenes. They set it up every year in their game room, and it gets quite elaborate, requiring a week or more to build and electrify fully. Ma and cousin M and I were sitting on the couch watching, with our wineglasses in hand. Uncle B wasn’t listening to his wife (Aunt B), and asked her to set up some part of the scene on which she had just delivered an extended lecture on how she was going to put it up last. She threw him a withering glance and snapped a salute, a rare show of ire from the Stepford Wife (which is why she had a heart attack at 47). Ma and I exchanged knowing looks of “trouble in paradise”, and had another slug.

From this small sample of anecdotes, you can see why it’s entirely necessary to bring four bottles of wine to a family function at which only four people drink. It’s all about bottling up the feelings that they might explode in some inappropriate manner ten years down the line. Despite how this may seem, I really do love my family. It’s just a love that deepens with vine-ripened ethanol.

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