We successfully hosted the first Thanksgiving in our new abode. No injuries, no serious screaming and only one dish of slightly burnt food. Even the diverse family members homogenized and got along great. Most of the family consisted of Jon’s side: his mom, dad, three brothers, their wives and kids. My mom and sis showed up to represent the Heile/Menkedick side. Jon woke up at 6:45 am to start the turkeys with his brother who drove over from Hilliard at 7 am (we can’t have any meal without Patrick’s input – he is a master chef). They grilled one turkey and smoked the other. Maria woke up exclaiming “I can’t believe Thanksgiving is finally here!” The day may have been better than Christmas for her – she loves having the family over and entertaining. She proudly showed off her place mats that she slaved over for the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving day (Megan, her sitter, and I prodded her more than a few times but she did a first-rate job on them and everyone enjoyed having a handmade mat in front of them).
My sis, Sarah, came over at 8 am in order for us to get in our Turkey Day run. We had contemplated running in the UA Turkey Race but decided that we may be pushing our luck trying to cook and run a race that started so late (9:15 am). Besides, 5 miles is wimpy – we went for about 8. We tore through the hills of Grandview and ran through donwtown back to our home. Sarah’s dogs kept us at a clip of a pace – they are like Iditarod dogs running through the tundra – they never stop! Little Sarah, all 95 pounds of her – held onto “the reins” the entire run. When the pups spotted a squirrel, they darted and pulled so hard on Sarah that she had to buckle down into a squat position and yank them back with all of her might. It is quite a sight to see this petite sister of mine take complete control of two dogs. She may be under 100 pounds but she is mighty.
When I arrived home, Maria and Mario were ready for everyone to arrive anxiously pacing around the house asking “how much longer?” Finally, Alana and Giovanni arrived and the screaming and insanity began (relegated to the basement, which continues to be such a godsend!). The kids had the basement destroyed in less than 15 minutes. A good reason for me to take a break and walk them down to the woods. I was getting antsy anyway because it was so gorgeous outside and I had been indoors preparing for the feast. “Anyone want to take a walk?” All of the kids jumped up and grabbed their shoes and coats. We walked down the road to the railroad tracks that are hidden behind a row of trees and bushes off the road. Is there any more fun than playing on the railroad tracks on a beautiful November day? The boys threw rocks into the trees and the girls danced around on the wood slats (on the outside of the track!). We thought we heard a train whistle at one point but it was merely wishful dreaming. The kids’ eyes popped out at the thought of seeing a train whiz by. Gio made me promise I would run back down with him if we heard the whistle at the house, and sure enough we heard it right when dinner was starting. Next time, Gio. Maria and Alana sang songs on the way back and Mario and Gio acted like “old men” by leaning on their sticks and hobbling up the hill.
When we got home, Maria and Alana begged for me to keep the boys out of Maria’s room so they could play barbies in peace. Mario refused to budge until I told him that the girls would beg to come to his room because of all of the cool toys he had so he better run in to it with Gio and keep those girls out. Maria and Alana caught on to my plan quickly and started to beg to come in Mario’s room. Mario and Gio slammed the door and refused to allow them in the room. The plan worked.
Meanwhile, the adults got to chat downstairs without children nagging at their ankles. Actually, I should clarify: Jon and I got to chat with out kids at our ankles. Patrick and Carrie have Alana and Gio pretty well-trained and Jon’s other brothers’ kids are grown. I was so bummed when I took the tablecloths out of the plastic and they were really wrinkled. If you buy new tablecloths they should be wrinkle-free – that is what you are buying, too, isn’t it? And what is the trick to getting those wrinkles out? I spent 20 minutes with the iron on them and still didn’t make much of a dent. But with the place mats and plates and silver on the table, you could barely tell. I had bought orange gerber daisies and purple flowers at the market the day before and they bursted out in the dining room against the brown walls.
We made enough food for a small army, as always. Thirty pounds of turkey, regular and oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, chipotle mac-n-cheese, rolls, creamed corn casserole, gravy, and fruit salad. Sarah’s mac-n-cheese dishes were a nice touch and Patty’s creamed corn casserole is always to die for. I had dreamed of all of the food being laid out on the tables, everyone sitting down, and a beautiful grace being said by me. Maybe the dream will happen next year. THere were too many dishes to put them out on the tables, and it would have been a form of torture to make the first people in line wait for the last since it took about 15 minutes for everyone to get through (you know how that is “Oh, what are these? How did you make them? They look great!” all the while holding up the line!). Patty did give an impromptu grace while we stood in line giving thanks for family – those with us and those who have passed – and appreciating the day we had together. It was short but beautiful. Patty and I are a lot alike in our love for family connection and every hour or so that day we would knock elbows and smile happy with the way the day was going.
Within twenty minutes of putting my plate down to eat, I had to unbutton my jeans and stretch my arms. Always a true sign of a good meal. Maria loved the creamed corn casserole and the turkey. Mario liked nothing and opted for an oreo yogurt. Jon loved the creamed corn casserole, too. I loved everything – seriously, I can’t pick a favorite. I love all of the side dishes mixed together with the turkey. Heaven. When Mario was finished, he asked to be excused instead of stating “I am done.” The family was quite impressed, as was I! He informed me later that the school teachers make him ask to be excused because it is a more polite way of saying “I am done.” Thank god the school teaches him some manners!
After dinner, Maria and Alana acted like vampires pulling naive aunts and cousins upstairs to the attic to “take a bite” out of them. Josh and I were one of the firsts who got a “bite” in the hand from the vampire girls. They had a hoot with that game for a while. Then they chased after Peter for quite some time – poor Peter, our 17 year-old cousin who was “one of the kids” for so long that now even though he is grown, he is the honorary playmate. We really need to slip him some cash next holiday.
The desserts enticed even the most full of us. Pumpkin, pecan, cherry and peanut butter/chocolate pies with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. With all of that, the kids played a game of who could spray the most whipped cream down their throats. It took us nearly an hour and a half to wash dishes – definitely the most obnoxious activity that you have to perform after a big meal like Thanksgiving but at least it gets you on your feet. Sarah ran over to get her pups when it got dark out and brought them back over for an early evening walk. We had hoped for a relaxing, serene walk around the block but a mad dash of kids flew out the door and we spent the entire walk trying to ensure that they remained together and didn’t cross the street and held their voices down (yeah, right). As rowdy as they are, I love seeing all of the cousins together having a good time. The older ones take care of the younger ones and the younger ones love the attention.
When we arrived home, we began the pack-up,stuffing leftovers into plastic bins and sliding pie slices onto paper plates. I tried to get rid of all of it but somehow ended up with my favorites – pecan and cherry – sitting in the fridge. How is it that one minute I can be stuffed silly and within an hour, I am ready for another slice of pie? Life is cruel that way. When the last of the family members walked out the door, Maria looked at me with the saddest little face. “I want Thanksgiving back. Why do good days have to end?” “I agree, Maria. But instead of being sad, we should be so grateful to have such a warm, loving, fun family.” She still looked sad so I took her to the second step of our stairs and sat her down next to me. She leaned her head on me looking out the door. I held the moment and told her that the second step was our resting place – a place that she could take me to talk about anything she wanted to talk to me about. I imagined her at age 16 with all of the teenage woes a girl faces. I told her that I want her to always feel she can tell me anything. She looked at me and said “I know I can, mom.” Please, Lord, let her continue to think that way.
We swept up the remaining scraps from the dining room and living room but left the food that had been dug into the floors by random feet stepping on them. Those would have to be wiped up on Black Friday; we were not heading out to the shopping mall so we had all day. Of course, we chose to ignore all that mess one more day and head down to Cincy on Black Friday to visit our aunts and cousins. A little procrastination never hurt anyone!