Exorcising Thanksgiving

I haven't liked Thanksgiving for years, but I still begin outlining the menu weeks before like a deluded lunatic planning a war. You want bounty? I'll make so much stuff the table will groan and you won't be able to move for a week. You want tradition? I'll give you corn and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Hell, I'll run through the list and check them all off - twice! 

Once, for my partner Marina's Cuban family I made barbecued salmon and fancy couscous, ginger sweet potatoes, little shreds of Brussels sprouts with bacon, cornbread, a whole glistening Sachertorte - and a pecan pie with blackstrap molasses, aggressively Kentucky bourbon, and concentric circles of nuts. All this just for four. Marina and I had been together already for a couple of years, but in those days her mom could still barely make eye contact with me, much less remember my name. My menu politely responded: See, this is what a hillbilly dyke can do, you fucking homophobe. 

Every bite was both beautiful and delicious. Even her brother who could never manage to put his cell phone away (and refused to come out of the closet like us) was forced to admit that the dyke done good. You could serve this in a restaurant.

via joefoodie

Growing up, my own mother spent the holiday screaming her head off. The in-laws were coming, and why don't you put on a dress? They took us to their country club, once, for Thanksgiving when I was four. I drank a Shirley Temple then puked on the tablecloth. (You can't take white trash anywhere.)

Another time we went to their house, where there were pearled onions in cream sauce. I'd never seen anything quite so ritzy as those little savory things with jewelry right there in the name. At home my mother served giblet gravy and cranberry sauce with ridges from the can, dressing from a cellophane bag. When I finally said the word lesbian, she didn't want to hear from me until I was the girl God wanted me to be. My God, what would her mother-in-law think?

My one sister who stayed takes her kids to an anti-gay megachurch.

The last time I had green bean casserole was my first year in New York when I went to a queer Thanksgiving. We celebrated our chosen families, or tried to, and somebody decided to add a touch of irony, anthropologically correct right down to the crispy French's onion rings wilting on the top. The mushy green beans stuck in my throat with the disgusting Tofurky. I drank too much. I felt like I should be grateful for any kind of family, but the genetic one still left a gaping, bloody hole in my gut.

Two decades passed before the next time I embarked on a Thanksgiving get-together. Marina and I were living in Paris, and we got together with a mix of queers and straights - French, American, Cuban, Vietnamese. I had it in my head that the French and permanent residents there were all cordon bleu graduates who would judge me harshly, especially since Bush had just invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. They must think I'm a barbarian. I knocked myself out and brought too much: A perfect Camembert won from the terrifying cheese lady. A high-class pumpkin tart with a hidden layer of plum jam in the bottom. Which they liked a lot. But so what? There were canned green beans served by my hosts, and they ate those, too. They were mostly there to be with each other, enjoy a glass of wine with friends. Talk.

Last night we did both. We drank. We talked. All instead of having the early Thanksgiving celebration I'd planned if Clinton won. There was going to be pernil, and savory pumpkin with cumin. Little Hillary cream puffs. And I was going to be so relieved, so grateful. Instead the Earth shook.  

Now? Now I can't come up with a menu. What do I serve as queers are beaten, Muslim women throttled with their headscarves, and the KKK plans a victory parade celebrating Trump?

I won't come back from this, not for years. Knowing the whole region, the whole country I come from still despises me and my immigrant girlfriend. And while we know the Thanksgiving story is bullshit, the old-timey Indians and Pilgrims making nice and living happily ever after, there was something redeeming in the idea that you could, or should, or might sit down at a table with those unlike you and share stories as you break bread.

That idea made us better.

Even when we failed, our traditions reminded us of it.

 

Kelly Cogswell is an independent journalist writing about politics and culture and a good home cook. The New York Press Association has recognized her column in New York's Gay City News, and her byline has also appeared at the now-defunct International Herald Tribune and the Louisville Courier Journal. She's the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, she lives in New York and Paris with her Cuban girlfriend. 

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