I loved living in New York City on Thanksgiving. Though I had to be with my family in CT for the actual meal, every year I’d delay my exodus until late Thursday morning so I could spend Wednesday night with my friends in a dive bar, lamenting our family dynamics and the train rides we’d all be taking the next day.
In those moments when the streets empty out, NYC feels like it’s all yours. My friends and I were like sitcom characters who always somehow got the same table at our favorite restaurant/bar/café. I used to think this feeling was tied to living in New York, but as the years went by and our Friendsgivings got smaller, I realized this was a phenomenon of youth, not location.
More friends would either pass-through for a quick drink (family obligations, new groups of buddies having the same get-together), show up late (work drama, longer commutes), attend but not be drinking (pregnancy, sobriety, dieting), more and more until the whole event felt less like FRIENDS or HIMYM and more like the last scene from CHEERS when Sam looks back on the bar but no one’s there.
That’s when I knew it was time.
I wanted to have a Thanksgiving that didn’t take place in a restaurant or even an apartment with a creatively-appointed “table for 12” made from kitchen counters and serving trays. I wanted a real-deal dining room with real-deal diners to dine in it. In August of 2014 my husband and I made this happen, and once we had house keys in hand, we eagerly informed our families that the next Thanksgiving would be at our home.
And we got ready for our first real holiday. I was 9+ months pregnant (baby due that Saturday!) So we decided to make it easy. The great thing about staying close to the city is that you don’t have to go far to find your favorite stuff. There was a Fairway Market in a town nearby that catered, and we didn’t want to worry about cooking from scratch (especially since we weren’t convinced the baby wouldn’t decide to crash our party.) So we went online and clicked up a great meal to be picked up Thursday around noon.
“Let’s just go early,” I said around 10am that morning. The table was ready, the house was clean, there was not a contraction in sight. It seemed like a good idea to get to the store in case any of that changed.
We drove the 15 minutes to Pelham, grabbed a shopping cart, and leisurely made our way over to the catering pickup table in the middle of the store. I stood there in the pregnant position (back arched, hands-on hips), while the catering manager handed my husband the contents of our order: tubs of readymade stuffing, mashed potatoes, spinach, cranberry sauce … and a RAW TURKEY.
Wait, what? “I’m sorry, this is a catering order. We ordered a cooked turkey.”
She blinked at me. “We don’t do cooked turkeys for Thanksgiving.”
“Your catering website has a photo of cooked sides next to a cooked turkey! We clicked on those items!”
Her eyes widened. “Well, we show a cooked turkey in the photos, but it comes raw.” Her face screwed up with concern. “I can see how that would be confusing.”
The cold, pale turkey shone beneath its plastic wrap on the catering table. In danger of a full pregnant-and-hormonal meltdown, I speechlessly stormed away towards the bakery lest I say or hurl something unfavorable. We’ve never cooked a turkey! How are we going to make one RIGHT NOW?
Luckily my husband had a better outlook. He came to get me, rolled up his sleeves, and started googling “What do I need to cook a turkey?” We spent the next 20 minutes dashing around the store to grab a roaster, baking dish, baster, thermometer, and stuffing for the inside. “We’re going to be just fine,” he assured me.
We raced home to preheat the oven and warn our families that early lunch was being rescheduled to a late dinner, and we could use anyone who was not a turkey virgin to come show us how it’s done. The tubs of sides and gravy filled the fridge, mocking us with their readiness. It felt like the mashed potatoes were rolling their eyes at me. Did I not know how to fill out an order form?
But the house was warm, kids were having fun, and the football game was on. Our families were hanging out, drinking, having cheese and crackers, and even though the guest of honor, Mr. Turkey, had shown up naked, it turned out it didn’t matter.
We all had a wonderful time. I remember thinking This is what it feels like to finally have a home.
The turkey came out delicious. And the baby came out a week later.