It’s the time of year when women everywhere will juggle family dinners for maybe two, three or even four different sets of family. Sometimes more.
We have a special kind of curse, where most of the in-laws and out-laws live within a few miles of each other. This means we never, ever have just one Thanksgiving dinner on the fourth Thursday in November. Instead, we get a series of them, one after another, morning, noon and night.
And the one at our family home always goes down like this: Dinner will be scheduled for 6 p.m. At least one of us three sisters will have to cut short another family dinner to make it by 6. This will create tension before the family has even buttered its first bun.
But it will be the best we can do, our own slice of Kalnbach time for the day. Never mind that we will also see each other the week of, during and after. Our mother would never forgive us if we didn’t gather on the holiday.
We will arrive in three stages:
Early: One of us will arrive early at our dad’s, carting a homemade side dish, her famous dessert and two children. This sister will rush around the kitchen, belly full with turkey, helping to prepare another one, wondering where the hell the others are.
On time: At 6 p.m., another sister will arrive. She will feel smug to have such perfect timing. But she will have forgotten to prepare her side dish and will have the ingredients swinging from her arm in a plastic bag from the corner gas station. “I’ll just whip this up,” she’ll say, casually. The early bird will glower at her but say nothing. Instead, they will place bets on when the last sister will show.
Late: Finally, the last sister will arrive 30 minutes late with her side dish half eaten by her in-laws. She will redeem herself by doing the dishes later in the night but, for now, she is the reason her sisters are standing around, mad and waiting, trying to pretend they are hungry and, most importantly, considering the intake of alcohol.
It will take the threesome a full fuzzy navel each to calm down and forget the trespasses committed. Peach schnapps was their mother’s favorite, but the good stuff comes when everyone else leaves the kitchen and it’s just the three of them, alone.
The sisters, 40 or near to it, will be giggling, with their shoulders pressed to each other, heads down, whispering, hoping their father isn’t coming. One of them will burn a pot of beans or drop a bowl of dressing. And they will all look up to see if they are going to be in trouble by an adult.
They will suddenly be in no hurry at all to start the meal. For a few moments they are kids again, laughing. They hate to break the spell that has come over the little kitchen, the kitchen they used to share with their mother. Because when they are together, and in sync, a part of their mother is there again too.
At last, the meal will be served, sometime around 7 p.m., and even then no one will be hungry. Six children’s plates with beans, buns, and turkey will eventually be fed to the dogs. Six children will beg for a bowl of cold cereal when they get home from the party. The next day, life will roar on into its usual busyness.
But the three girls will still remember what those few minutes in the kitchen felt like, together.
This year, we hope you’ll enjoy your own family dinners, agony and all, and take time to treasure the little moments even if your sisters are driving you batty. Happy Holidays!