November 26, 2000
Thanks a Lot


Very early in my *career* as a young wife/mother/Martha-Stewart-wannabe, I found myself in the unlikely position of hostessing a big holiday meal for a houseful of relatives.

Mind you: I was in no way prepared for such an enormous social responsibility. We had two small daughters in diapers. Our tiny house was a permanent disaster zone. We had no actual dining room furniture: just a rickety table, forever on the verge of collapse, and two mismatched chairs. Our bathroom fixtures were iffy at best. I was a functional cook, but had never prepared dinner for more than two or three adults at a time.

Plus we were dead-broke: a lot of our groceries in those days were coming from charity.

But I forged ahead, undaunted, and when the big day came I got up very early and puttered happily around my kitchen ... making walnut-and-apple stuffing, boiling potatoes, chilling olives, preparing the twenty-pound Food Bank turkey for roasting. "This is going to be the best holiday dinner ever!" I proclaimed.

And then the oven died.

My then-husband yanked the oven out of the wall and tinkered fruitlessly with the wiring for most of the morning (as I hovered over him, alternating between noisy hysteria and silent teary resignation). But inevitably the verdict came down: no oven. Sadly, I said I would have to drive to the phone booth and call all of our relatives and cancel dinner.

"Or we could throw the turkey on the Weber," suggested the hub.

I was skeptical. BARBECUED turkey? It sounded so untraditional. So unsafe. So unsanitary. So ... well ... icky, frankly.

But my then-husband  --  who, I will admit, is a wiz with a pair of barbecue tongs  --  immediately fired up the grill, and a little while later he tossed the bird over a bed of hot hickory coals. He spent the entire afternoon standing outside in the carport, in a freezing November rain-and-sleet storm, tending that turkey like a nervous new mother watching her baby sleep. Dinner was a couple of hours late that afternoon  --  and most of us had to sit on the floor to eat, since there weren't enough chairs to go around  --  but the turkey was perfect: tender and running-with-juices on the inside, crispy and golden-brown on the outside.

The meal was pronounced a success.

In fact, it was almost too successful. My husband was so smitten with the idea of cooking the turkey on the Weber -- so flush with his success -- that for the remaining years of our marriage, every turkey we ever cooked was barbecued on that grill. The novelty, for me, wore off almost immediately.  I like barbecue as much as the next guy. But when it comes to something as traditional as my Thanksgiving turkey -- or, more importantly, my day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich -- I traditionally like it to taste as much like a Swanson's TV Dinner as possible. And that means absolutely no *hickory undertones.*  This was a source of no little friction, between the hub and me, for years to come. "Can't we please roast it in the oven this time?" I would beseech him, but he would look so hurt and so betrayed that I would always relent. The next thing I knew, I was sitting there looking at another fudking plate of barbecued turkey.

You know how it is. You always want what you can't have.


Here is is, a couple of days late: my annual *Stuff I'm Thankful For* List.  I think it's important to recognize the good things in our lives. Here are some of mine:

  • My family.

    Tops on the list, of course, are the Tots.

    I'm thankful I gave birth to the three of them in the first place: they were worth all forty-three million, eight-hundred and ninety-seven thousand, six-hundred and twenty-one hours of excruciating, gut-wrenching, agonizing labor.

    I'm thankful for their good health. I'm thankful for their smarts and their humor and their individuality. I'm thankful that we've been able to spend so much time together this year. I'm thankful for the continuing efforts of their custodial parent. I'm thankful that we've all managed to get through this past year more or less unscathed.

    I'm thankful for the rest of my family, too ... especially the ones who read this website every day and STILL talk to me at Christmas.

    But I would also have to include, on any list of "family," the people who populate my world on a daily basis but who are not connected by blood or by paper. My co-workers, for instance, especially Jen and Stan and The Human Resources Director Person. Our sweet landlord. The nice librarian at the Alameda Public Library. The counter guy at the taqueria, who always gives us extra lime wedges. Jon Carroll. Matt Lauer. Patty Griffin. Elizabeth Berg. The lady who cleans the bathrooms at the Totem Pole Company ... the one who says "Hola!" every time she sees me.

    I would have to include true friends, also, as part of my "family." The friend who thinks he is falling in love again. The friend whose wife does not have breast cancer after all. The friend who loses our address every year when Christmas card season rolls around (and humbly writes to request it again). The friend who writes of her granddaughter with love and humor. The friend who advises me on career issues (and almost never corrects my spelling anymore) ... among many, many others.

    And I would certainly have to include my readers. I'm thankful for those of you who write in validation -- the lady who wrote yesterday, for instance, saying she "basked in the presence of strength" as she read the archives [sheesh!] -- but I am also thankful for those who write to criticize, or to complain, or to yell, or to challenge, or to point out mistakes, or to tell me that I need to stop being happy and to stop finding things to be optimistic about and to position myself in front of the nearest oncoming bus, more or less immediately.

    The first group keeps me sane. The second group keeps me humble. I appreciate them both in equal measure.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  • The return of Prell Shampoo.

    OK. It's not exactly the same shampoo I remember from my childhood.

    It's not that disturbing, other-worldly-green anymore, for one thing. The distinctive hourglass bottle has been replaced by a trendy upside-down *shower dispenser.* And the shampoo itself is not as thick as it used to be: if you dropped a single pearl into a bottle of Prell 2000, it would sink to the bottom quicker than you can say "methylchloroisothiazolinone."

    But it's Prell. It's more of that groovy name-recognition-factor stuff that I love. Like Teen Magazine, and Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Cereal, and "Dark Shadows" re-runs ... Prell Shampoo is a little piece of my childhood, following me into the 21st century. I see that bottle sitting in our shower every morning, and it makes me smile.

    Now if only they would bring back Tame Creme Rinse.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  • My sobriety.

    I may not track it in days anymore -- or even in months (in fact, I had to stop and count on my fingers just now, in order to figure out that it's been twenty-six months this week) -- but my sobriety remains the most precious and most important thing in my life, right after the people I love.

    I am never going to get tired of waking up in the morning and enjoying that Wow! I'm not hungover! moment.

    Not ever.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  • My job.

    I don't know how long the honeymoon is going to last this time ... but I'm going to enjoy it while it does.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  • My website.

    I've spent a lot of time wading through my own archives the past few days ... and at the risk of sounding immodestly immodest, I have to tell you that it's been sort of fun.

    In a geeky, self-absorbed sort of way.

    My favorite "find?" Something I'd completely forgotten I'd ever written? This amusingly shortsighted sentiment from 20 year old Secra: "I wish I could be young when the 21st century arrives. I’ll be 43, as old as Dad is now ... What a depressing thought." 

    When I can manage to stifle my Inner Critic for a few minutes and read the stuff I've written, with the discerning eye of an outsider looking in on my own life, I have to admit that it's a pretty damn fine read.

    I'm thankful for that.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *

  • And of course ... David.

    Every morning of this holiday weekend I have opened my eyes to find David laying next to me in bed, watching me sleep.

    We have been as close, every day of this holiday weekend, as two people can be, short of conjoined Siamese twins.

    And every evening of this holiday weekend I have fallen asleep silently and sincerely thanking Whoever Is In Charge of Running The Universe for bringing David into my life.

    And these are some of the things I am thankful for this year.

The irony, of course, is that as soon as my marriage ended and I moved far from the land of hickory chips and barbecue tongs ...

... I craved barbecued turkey.

I craved it like a quivering sugar junkie craves her next Tobler Chocolate Orange fix.

All of a sudden plain, ordinary, oven-roasted turkey tasted ... well ... plain. And ordinary. And disturbingly free of those familiar smoky charcoal undertones.

I've been back to TicTac for a couple of Christmases since then, of course, and the ex-husband always obliges my craving with a big, fat, hot-off-the-Weber turkey. It satisfies the hickory lust in my soul ... and in my tastebuds. He'll probably cook another one next month when I fly up for the holidays.

I can already taste the lighter fluid.

But in the meantime, imagine my delight -- my flat-out, open-jawed, flabbergasted, "paint me with polka-dots and call me Dotty!" astonishment -- when David and I arrived at his parents' house on Thursday afternoon for Thanksgiving dinner, and found Mr. Ю僱êrvØ¡ there on the patio, barbecue tongs in hand ...

... standing next to a merrily-smoking Weber grill.

I wrote an e-mail to David's parents yesterday, thanking them for dinner on Thursday. "Barbecued turkey is a tradition in my family," I said. "So it was like a little taste of 'home' for me."

(Wherever she is right now, Grandma is smiling at my perfect party manners.)

Dinner at the Ю僱êrvØ¡ household was warm, and relaxed, and friendly ... and frankly a lot more fun than I expected it to be. My favorite moment: sitting on the sofa with David before dinner, looking at family photo albums and listening to his brother and his mom discuss the "textural integrity" of the asparagus cakes.  

Trust me when I tell you that "textural integrity" is NOT a phrase you would have heard at a lot of other Thanksgiving dinners in my life.

And the barbecued turkey, quite honestly, was the best damn turkey I've had in years. It was especially good in that 10 p.m. sandwich, once we got home.

I was my usual quiet, slightly-reserved, smile-and-nod-politely-a-lot self at David's parents' house ... the only difference being that this year the smiles were genuine. This year I had more of a sense of being surrounded by family, as opposed to merely being David's 'dinner date.' I felt less an outsider this year.

It was nice.

The rest of our Thanksgiving weekend has been just as nice. David and I went out on Saturday and ran errands all over Alameda. Dropping old clothes and shoes off at the thrift store. Checking out library books on the history of kissing (me) and on the Zuni tribe of New Mexico (him). Lunch at the taqueria. Kinko's. Gas station. Bank. Long meandering drive around the island, looking at Victorians and autumn foilage. And a trip to the grocery store, where we cashed in $13 worth of accumulated store coupons and purchased ...

... a 20 lb. turkey.

I'm already eyeballing the hibachi outside by the swimming pool.

one year ago: thanking god
two years ago: the 1998 *stuff i'm thankful for* list

throw a rock