If you feel like you go over the river, through the woods, and up the freakin’ wall on Thanksgiving, you’re in good company.
It’s a cliché for a reason: Thanksgiving is the one holiday most likely to force people connected only by blood – not common interests, beliefs, or even feelings of kinship beyond the most basic DNA – to sit around a table together, probably drink too much, and burst the social bubbles we so carefully construct for ourselves the rest of the year.
That means weird distant relatives, random holiday orphans invited out of federal-holiday-induced obligation, and oh yes, your nearest and dearest, in one bilious, boundary-less jamboree.
Which means we all have stories to tell. And I have gathered a cornucopia of them for your Thanksgiving schadenfreude!
Now, my sister and I lit out for the West Coast after thirty or so of these joyful occasions, and now we just hole up at her house with a turkey and Wild Turkey and let the kids play soccer with throw pillows. Lest you think we took this action without due diligence, I will include my own anecdotes first, then proceed to embarrass my friends by sharing their formerly-secret shame. (Yes, the names are fake! Come on! They’re fake because the stories are all too real. Except mine. That’s me, Amy K.)
“My marriage of two years had just gone belly-up; my husband had moved out in October, and we gathered for Thanksgiving about a month later. My mother placed a steaming dish of pilaf on the table, said she was thankful we were all gathered together, “only I do so wish that Josh were here.”
“Deep, martyred sigh. I spent Christmas with my friend Rebecca’s family.” – Amy K.
“My dad is the kind of guy who can’t walk through the clearance section of a store without picking up some weird thing and then showing it off. This is how we acquired a radio shaped like a knight’s helmet, a small electric crumb-roomba, and a pint-sized pink flashlight that looked, for all the world, like it was “ribbed … for her pleasure.” My sisters and I would leave it on each other’s seats; we’d replace each other’s forks with this thing. Basically, you don’t get out of any family gathering without it ending up on your person.”
“The frozen rictus of forced smiles from our more proper cousins are worth every baleful glare from our mom.” – Amy K.
“We were standing around the buffet table at my aunt’s house when our uncle said something about how we all get together once a year to stand in a circle and stare at the food. My sister meant to just say we were all going to do some kind of circular dance, but it came out like this: ‘And then we all do the circle-jerk dance!’”
“There were beets on the table that looked paler than her face.” – Amy K. again. Let’s move on from my family, shall we?
“We were at the home of some friends of my parents’ when the hostess went off on how trashy tattoos are, especially on women. I looked across the room at my dad, who gave me the raised eyebrow of approval; I then lifted my shirt to ask her if she thought the most recent of my three tattoos, done in memory of my deceased friend, was trashy.”
“She backpedaled like a champ and probably hocked a loogie into my stuffing.” – Shannon
“My mom was remanded into the custody of the local psychiatric hospital just before Thanksgiving one year. My brother and I brought her a very nice stuffed turkey roll and mashed potatoes, which we were allowed to eat with her as long as we used the facility’s sporks.”
“Honestly, everyone was perfectly pleasant, from the staff to the other patients, making it probably the least awkward Thanksgiving dinner of our childhood.” – Randy
“My aunt was making conversation about the new tenant in her condo, a young-ish schoolteacher. My grandfather: ‘Is she stacked?’”
“Everyone else: Deep breath, averted eyes, long sip of wine.” – Emily
“I brought my stepdaughter back East for Thanksgiving one year – we live in the liberal bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area, and my family lives in a Trump-voting section of Long Island. My stepdaughter is tall, blonde, and athletic, and my drunk aunt lit into her about how important it was for her to make sure she populated the country with white babies fathered by white men.”
“My stepdaughter smiled politely, then excused herself to call her boyfriend – a sweet, loving fellow student from her AP history class who happens to also be African-American.” – Meg
“We all sat down to the dinner that my mom had spent most of the day preparing. It looked amazing. 10 minutes into the meal, my sister made me laugh so hard I literally barfed.”
“To this day, she repeats this story at the beginning of every Thanksgiving meal in lieu of grace. Fam!” – Melinda
“I brought my Jewish husband to dinner with my mom’s family. My cousin had just begun work at a garage. My aunt asked if he got health insurance as part of the job. He said, ‘Of course not, Mom. I work for Jews.’”
“My husband and I quietly packed ourselves up and slipped out the back, heading to my dad’s house. The kicker? My mom left an angry voicemail excoriating me for making my cousin feel awkward. Sorry, snowflake!” – Suzanne
“I’m not a native Mandarin speaker, but I try to learn it for my extended family’s sake. One Thanksgiving, I found out that if you think you’re saying ‘turkey,’ but you mangle the pronunciation just right, you will actually end up saying ‘big chicken vagina.’”
“And by ‘you,’ of course I mean ‘me.’” – Ken
“Thanksgiving in Florida in the early ‘90s — my now-wife and I had been together only a year or two, meaning were only about 23. Her brother, Andy, was still in college. Her mom spent the whole dinner trying to get Andy to agree to be our sperm donor.”
“#Awkward!” – Ellie
“You know it’s awkward when someone brings out Cards Against Humanity for a rollicking round of complete inappropriateness after the pie.”
“Yep, that was the year I watched my sister explain to my 14-year-old nephew exactly what a ‘queef’ is.” – Clay
“My brother brought a surprise guest one Thanksgiving: His new girlfriend! Who, it turned out, was a vegetarian! We all went around the table saying what we were thankful for, and she said, ‘The non-flesh portions of this meal.’”
“I thought my mom’s looks could kill, but this woman managed to survive somehow.” – Ellen
“Which reminds me of one of my ten vegetarian Thanksgivings. This one was spent at my then-husband’s family home, where there was literally nothing I could eat other than cornbread stuffing and red wine.”
“My poop was pink!” – Amy K, again, breaking her promise that she was done
“Well, there was the year we all found out two of my great-aunts, Anna and Stella, had had a burlesque act together. It started when one of them brought up one of her husbands, who’d been a rum-runner, and before you could say ‘Eliot Ness,’ they were both standing on the coffee table, recreating their number. Just as they were performing a perfectly synchronized removal of their cardigans, Stella fell backwards onto the couch, revealing long-line leopard print underwear with garters.”
“Wait, you said awkward? Really, this was just awesome.” – Audrey
“My mom tried to recreate her mother-in-law’s turkey on Thanksgiving (the secret: basting with orange juice) and she was so nervous and stressed out about it. I was in grade school, maybe 8. She had a milk carton that was acting as her ‘junk bowl,’ full of unidentifiable turkey blobs and carrot-ends and every other gross thing you can imagine; in a hurry, she hucked it across the kitchen toward the garbage can. She missed the can. It hit ME. I was covered! She did what anyone would do: laughed so hard she peed all over her avocado-green kitchen rug. I cried, till she peed; then I had to laugh, too.”
“My parents got divorced soon after that, and my mom became a vegetarian.” – Susan
“I invited my mom to my Thanksgiving, and she showed up and got so drunk we had to put her to bed.”
“But it turned out that was the least awkward option; when she woke the next day, she said, ‘I didn’t know your friend Lisa was BLACK.’” – Dawn
“We usually had Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house, but one year my mom decided she wanted to host. She did a fantastic job – slaved over the turkey, which looked delicious! Sadly, we never got to taste it. Just as we all closed our eyes to say the blessing, our German Shepherd, Garbo, galloped into the kitchen, leapt up to the table, and stole the entire bird before any of us could stop her.”
“I guess she wanted to be alone … with the turkey!” – Joe
“Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, a one-act play:
My brother’s wife, Sheila: I don’t eat turkey.
My dad, henceforth known as Pops: Whaddya, some kind of … vagitarian?
My brother, Sheila’s Husband: Pops …
Pops: I’m just askin’!
Bro: Pops …
Sheila (in a rational voice, speaking to the rest of us): You know how there’s a chemical in turkey that puts people to sleep? Well, it gives me the total shits.
Sheila: He asked! I’m answering! Last year, I shit my pants on the ride home.
Pops: Awright, awright …
Sheila: Like giblet gravy.
Pops: Jesus Christ! Enough, already!
Sheila: You asked!
Long, silent pause.
Mom: Anybody want coffee?