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I was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. So, my spiritual connection with food is of neonatal proportions. Scientific jargon that includes uterus, gestation, amniotic fluid and ew would argue that it was my biological time to enter the world. I beg to differ. I think my fetal-self got one whiff of green bean casserole and instinctively knew that it was time to fly the coop.
Is it coincidental that my mother’s water broke at the same time that the pumpkin pie was served? I think not. Little did I know, however, that food was as strong a birthright for me as it was for my mother. Cervical dilation and pained expressions of shock and disgust from family members sitting around the table were not about to keep Kristine Burns from taking advantage of her final pregnancy craving. A la mode!
Most people would resent their birthday falling on a major holiday—as mine does every few years. Let alone a holiday where you’re sharing the limelight with centuries of indoctrinated racism against Native Americans. When the holiday isn’t all about you, your kin doesn’t feel the need to hide their fear and loathing of family gatherings: dazzling displays of passive-aggression become as common as mashed potatoes and mock-turtlenecks. And since I have made it through the wilderness of “oh, wow¸ you got a haircut…thank God for that”, I figure it’s my duty to pay my (mis)fortune forward and tell you all how to survive Thanksgiving with your family.
Where better to start than with food? My advice is to keep your head low and your expectations lower. The gravy is going to come out of a can, the only rolls served are going to be of the eye variety and your grandmother’s first veiled insult will be like a swift wooden spoon to the back of the head. Take advantage of appetizer conversations: people are milling around, small-talk is blissfully brief and there’s always spinach dip. It’s when everyone sits down to eat the actual meal that shit hits the tryptophan. Before you know it, “white or dark meat?” becomes “what do you mean she’s your favorite daughter?!”
If possible, snag a spot at the kid’s table; you’ll have more to contribute to the conversation and they’ll never remind you how futile a Communication degree is. Plus, you’ll finally understand why that obligatory creepy uncle always felt more comfortable rubbing elbows with seven year olds. Otherwise, find the biggest wino in your family and, as soon as her teeth turned a violent shade of bruised vulva, ask why Auntie Barbara has lived with her “roommate,” Marge, for twenty years now. “Well,” Meryl Merlot slurs. “L-l-let’s just say they know how to drive their Subaru Outback from ONE end of the Grand Canyon to the OTHER…”
Right around the time that the button on your khakis blasts off and blinds your nearest relative, claim a spot by the television. The TV will inevitably be set to one of three programs: the football game, the dog show or the parade. And each one is more miserable to watch than the last. Make it a little more enjoyable by playing “shag, marry, kill” with your half-deaf grandfather. His options are a Dallas Cowboy, a Weimaraner or Carly Simon dressed up as a singing-songwriting Puritan. By the time he realizes you’re not asking for his opinion on the Iranian hostage crisis, you’ll have fallen blissfully into a food coma.
When you stir from your stupor, develop as quick an understanding of your surroundings as possible. Wipe the drool off your face, take your hands out from under your waistband and remind yourself what decade it is. Latch onto the nearest toupee on your way up from the couch: you’ll need some leverage to accustom to your new love handles. And if your diabetic coma didn’t strip you of sight, survey your surroundings.
Through the haze of your turkey trance, you just might have a new perspective of your family. Sure, your uber-conservative Aunt Ayn gave thanks to “Reaganomics” before breaking her bread but your communist cousin Randy said he was grateful for body odor and free-trade coffee beans as he whispered a non-denominational blessing over his tofurkey. Although these differences in character have resulted in countless cold shoulders and even colder Christmas dinners, they’re dissimilarities that should be celebrated. What’s the point of pulling on that wishbone if you’re both hoping for the same thing? Whether or not the bone ends up in your favor, give thanks.
Brian Burns is a Staff Columnist for The Hub. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him @brianTburns_.