Virginia Peng

I’d built it up in my head that I was having my first Real American Big Family Thanksgiving Dinner. 

I’m an American who was born and raised in London. No, I don’t have an accent. Why? My mom is from California and I wanted to be just like her. (I think … I was five … I don’t really know.) This year, my mom and I were invited to celebrate the holiday at her cousin’s house in Denver along with her extended family. 

We heard about the planning over the phone. There had been a lot of stress. Many moving pieces. Twenty-one people. It was expected to be a huge affair. The in-laws. Two cats. Three of the four cousins. One big kid. Five little kids — one of whom is a little terror but I won’t publically shame him about it. An air fryer. The great-grandmother a.k.a “GG” — now sporting the classic “Y” knitted sweater and looking fabulous.

Anyways, I soon found myself having my first Real American Small Family All The Kids Have A Viral Infection Long Day Of Cooking Graphic Turkey Carcass Thanksgiving Dinner. And, truly, I loved it. 

Is it typical of the American Thanksgiving Dinner for expectations not to meet reality — but then for reality to sort of supersede expectations from the fun of it? Sort of like Halloweekend? Or The Game?

This is how it went down:

Extra tables and chairs were brought up from the basement and a lot of time went into setting them up.

Then, one of the babies got a common mild cold called RSV. That meant her brother — the terror I mentioned — had RSV. That too meant their parents were taken out, along with the family members they’d been staying with. That took out the in-laws as well. It also took out the sweet potato casserole. 

Twenty-one became eleven. Rather intimate. Only mashed potatoes. 

The extra tables and chairs were folded and taken back into the basement.

We all readjusted our expectations. 

What strikes me most interesting about the whole turkey-day ordeal is the dependence on the turkey itself. Himself. They referred to him as a “big boy.” He was a big boy. Cousin Matthew — think Chandler Bing — had a difficult time cutting the turkey so cousin Keith — everyone likes Keith with the long goatee — had to bring out the electric knife. They placed the turkey on a cutting board and then cut the turkey on a glass plate. Turkey juice got all over the kitchen counter and the floor. Kitchen towels were involved. The whole operation started looking very Grey’s Anatomy and I felt myself turn away from our big boy bleeding out onto the table.

I have to say, Keith works wonders with an electric knife. Very precise cuts. Matthew wanted him to “get on with it already” but Keith couldn’t be rushed.

Another point of interest is that we never actually said what we’re thankful for. I thought that was sort of the point. Maybe it was implied — we’re thankful for the food, we’re thankful we’re together, we’re thankful those with RSV are recovering, we’re thankful we don’t have RSV yet, we’re thankful Keith works wonders with an electric knife — but we never actually acknowledged our thanks. 

Perhaps we didn’t say thanks because the dinner was so far from what we’d expected it to be. I’d been looking forward to spending time with my cousin who’s in seventh grade — I want to be someone she can look up to and confide in — but I rarely get to see her and she was among the crew taken out by the viral infection. Or, perhaps we didn’t say thanks because being around food all day makes one impressively hungry.

Regardless of the disappointments, the whole affair became quite joyous in how turbulent it was. 

Someone nearly got taken out by a flying frisbee. We watched American Football — or at least it was showing on the TV — and I couldn’t help but notice it’s a lot of close shots of men’s butts and wonder what that says about America. We over-prepared food so people left with zip-lock bags of mashed potatoes and turkey dangling from their arms. Cousin Matthew cracked many jokes. There was a lot of bourbon and a lot of talk about childhood seances and adulthood stuffed animal obsessions.

I guess, if we’d said thanks around the table, I would have said I’m thankful that everyone tried their hardest to spend one day together.

And that I’m thankful that we’ll have another shot at it next year.