My best friend goes to Thanksgiving dinner at her in-laws’ each year, and this year they decided that dinner conversation needed to be more even more awkward than normal. So they sent out discussion topics ahead of time that everyone would “get” to share with the group. My best friend has an acerbic wit behind an angel’s face, so she passed them on to me, along with the answer she would like to give her in-laws. These included such gems as “How is your life different than it was last year?” (“I have a lot less sex”) and “Tell us about a vacation you went on this year.” (“We’re just trying to make rent but I can’t wait to hear about your six week trip to Spain”).
Bless her heart, she’ll make up something suitable to tell them on the actual day. I’m not sure I’d have the patience. I can just about deal with the inevitable “What are you thankful for this year?” question that has to be recited. Just about.
But really, it’s not like you can actually be honest with that one either. You have to be thankful for the right things. Acceptable subjects of gratitude include family, significant other, friends, health, basic necessities, and a job. Full stop. Try mentioning at dinner that you’re thankful for your vibrator and see how quickly conversation grinds to a halt.
“I’m so thankful for my precious children,” says a cousin whose ickle toddlerkins has licked every piece of silverware on the table and has not let her eat a single uninterrupted bite of her dinner.
“I’m just thankful for a good job,” says a brother who does literally nothing at work but surf porn and pray for his boss to have a heart attack.
“I’m so grateful for my family,” says a daughter whose eye hasn’t stopped twitching since the first time her mother asked her if she didn’t think she should have served ham instead of turkey.
And you know what? That’s good. Even if, in the moment, we can’t stand our jobs or families, it’s good to stop and remember that we have a lot to be grateful for, and that we love the people in our lives and are glad not to be living in cardboard box. We all need perspective. But on the other hand, forcing people to say it whether they want to or not, and to one-up each other with how blameless and humble their offerings of gratitude are is kind of…bullshit. It turns into this weird competition about who is the most beatifically and unselfishly thankful, when really what most of us are thinking is whether we can get this over with before the gravy gets that weird skin on it.
Just this once at Thanksgiving can we just assume everyone else at the table is not a piece of garbage human being and that we are all thankful for the things in our lives we are supposed to be thankful for? And agree that yes, obviously we are all glad our needs are being met and that we have friends/spouse/children/parents/a home/health/a job? And that if one of us is not feeling particularly thankful for those things (possibly because they are lacking one or more of them) at this time, there is probably a pretty goddamn good reason for it and it’s none of our business if they don’t feel like talking about?
And then can we agree that the big stuff like partners and kids and jobs are complicated and that even though we’re grateful for them, sometimes they bug the shit out of us and it’s nice to have small, simple things that bring little bursts of joy into our lives on the regular? Not the kind of transcendent joy that the birth of a baby or earning your degree might give you, but a small, happy glow, untroubled by who’s going to provide childcare, or what if the kid gets sick or turns into a drug addict, or how you are going to pay off those loans and did you even choose the right major, what on earth were you thinking studying Russian literature in this economy, that shit was for 90’s kids who could get a job with a 2.5 GPA from Hicksville U, oh my Glob, now I’m hyperventilating…
And then, finally, can we agree to just talk about that stuff that makes us go “oh thank goodness for _____” on a daily basis? Wouldn’t that be magical, just to be honest and not have this to perform thankfulness for the “right” thing in the correct way to avoid sounding like a monster? And wouldn’t it also be a lot more interesting than having to hear everyone recite pretty much the same list every fucking year, and a lot kinder than spending dessert speculating why Sarah said she was grateful for her husband last year but not this year?
Yes? Fantastic. Here goes.
1) Electric blankets. My house is freezing. My bedroom is freezing-er. Every single time I crawl into my toasty warm bed while icicles slowly form on the curtain rod, I literally say out loud, “I’m so glad we have an electric blanket”. I also spend a good part of my day in my cold office wishing I was at home with my electric blanket. It turns my bed into a place of solace and respite from the cruelty of the Utah winter and the oppressive darkness that descends as we creep towards the solstice. I would marry my electric blanket, but I don’t have to because it’s already sleeping with me. Tramp.
2) My smartphone. Sure, you can be too caught up in your phone and become disconnected from the things most important to you and ignore the people you love and let your pets starve because you need to level up on Candy Crush. But if you’re doing that, it’s your fault, not the smartphone’s. It’s not making you be an asshole. My smartphone tells me how to get to hard to find house of my mother’s sister’s sister-in-law without my husband and I murdering each other. It lets me make a perfect turkey because I was able to look up step-by-step instructions while it was cooking. It enables me to not resent slaving in a hot kitchen and missing the Macy’s parade by considerately streaming it live for me. It allows me go into the bathroom and discreetly text a friend instead of having an aneurysm the 87th time my mom audibly praises Jesus for something I’ve worked incredibly hard on. Smartphones save lives and relationships.
3) Alcohol. I enjoy alcohol. I don’t particularly enjoy being drunk and I certainly don’t enjoy hangovers. But I love wine and well-crafted beers, and fancy cocktails with weird ingredients, and a really good whiskey. And on Thanksgiving, I am oh-so-thankful for booze. It casts a pleasant glow over an otherwise stressful day. Sipping it gives me seconds to formulate a diplomatic response to whatever ticking time bombs regarding the accuracy of Fox News that have been lobbed in my general direction. The right amount makes me tolerant, easy going, and agreeable. I will drink hard cider while cooking, champagne with dinner, and mulled wine by the fire after supper, while my family slips in to their peaceful, turkey-comas and the house at last falls silent.
4) Potatoes. My love of potato is not a casual love. It is a wide ranging, all-consuming love. The pinnacle of this is expressed in my relationship with the patatas bravas served at my favorite restaurant, but many a late night has been spent making (or having my long-suffering spouse make) oven fries, steak frites, or roasted potato stacks. Breakfast is largely an excuse for hash browns. Occasionally dinner consists solely of cheesy garlic mashed potatoes. I love blue, red, yellow, and purple potatoes. I spent every Tuesday farm market this summer stalking a poor, socially awkward farm boy whose produce stand once sold me Purple Viking potatoes. They made the best fries I’ve had in my life, so I would show up as soon as the market opened, jonesing for another fix. I terrified him, although as he did eventually surrender more purple potatoes I have no regrets. My dream is to go to the Andes and sample as many of the over 4,000 varieties of potato grown there as possible. And also to see a chinchilla. I am comforted by the knowledge that one can survive for a long time on a diet of virtually nothing but potatoes and milk or butter alone. A bag of potatoes in my house means there is always a meal that can be easily made and will be filling and warm. When I eat potatoes I feel nourished and loved. And then I feel sleepy, which might be even better.
5) Tea. Yes, another consumable, but one I have every day (as opposed to just nearly every day with the potato thing). I love tea. To me, tea is kindness. Coffee is what I drink when I am in a hurry, or just need to wake up, or have stuff to get done. It’s always there at work, ready to be poured, quick and efficient. But tea requires making, even if it’s just from a Tetley tea bag. A cup of tea means that I’ve had time to collect myself, to take the time to put it together. Tea is what I seek out when I’m sick, or very tired, or world weary. It’s a luxury. Coffee is utilitarian – I drink it because I need to. But tea is an emotional support. I drink strong builder’s tea in the mornings when I’m getting ready for my day, and brew a whole pot of special single-origin Oolong for lazy weekend mornings. I have teas from all my favorite people and think of them when I drink the tea they gave me. I may not be British but I do share the firm belief that as long as I can get a cup of tea, things aren’t so bad. A place that I can not get tea is a barbaric land of cold, unfeeling coffee drinkers and I don’t trust it. A place that provides me with tea is instantly welcoming, and will be spared my wroth when I rain down my justice upon the world. It is impossible to be ill tempered with a good cup of tea in one’s hand.
So those are mine. Now, be honest… what are you really thankful for?