Thanksgiving to my mother is the only day in the year we can eat with the family and not overload on matzoh balls, gefilte and kugel. I’ve never understood it. She’s never been one to play Mah-Jong with the girls or cook in the kitchen until the smells of judaism waft into every room of the house, not only offending my “goyim” friends, but also any-barely-clinging-to-life plants adorning the windows.
My mother, while nurturing, was at her best when not in the kitchen. Yet her obsession with cultural food and family is as grating as back-to-back showings of Fiddler On The Roof when a holiday looms. My Great Grandfather, Isidor (“No E,” my Grandfather shouted at his funeral in ’93 when the superfluous vowel was added to the end of his name) led the Passover seder every year with an iron fist. The well-dressed children sat in horror and hunger attempting to read the Hebrew-only book of prayers and only after Izzy started the seder at sundown. This guaranteed no one was fed until at least 9:30 and several of the younger punished were down for the count before soup was served.
These seders were often led in my house growing up and as such, I was required to smile throughout as if I had any idea what was being said and my growing concern for the existence of food was not nagging at me every other minute. The week before the seder, mom would clear the grocery store out of every Manischewitz product on the shelves and hoard them. No, we weren’t even allowed to eat them! As if the apocalypse was coming and the neighboring chosen ones would come knocking on our door for the last potato latke they would ever taste, my mother stood on ceremony and most likely put several little Jews through college under the Manischewitz umbrella. These Jewish meals have traditions, some silly and some necessary, but mom welcomes Thanksgiving with open arms.
For one, it is of course a chance for us all to be together and share stories and laugh, but for a woman so obsessed with Jewish food, she nearly breaks into a song and tap dance number over Thanksgiving. Even when my brother and I were younger and my parents were in the process of a divorce, she made it very clear that Thanksgiving was HERS and dad could have Black Friday if he so chose.
This year, we head to Bayside, Queens to have what we call a, “Soy Vay” Thanksgiving. My Grandfather is Jewish but my Grandmother is Chinese and Trinidadian, so holidays are always a bit different in my family. The true test of a Jewish family gathering? An hour long drive in gridlock traffic, a welcoming hug and kiss upon arrival, a festive holiday drink or soda offered as the guest seats, and then the inevitable, “What took you so long? Did you take the tunnel? Neva’ take the tunnel! Always take the RFK! Here, let me write down directions for the way home.”
My mother and I glance at each other with a look that simply says, “Oy!”