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The Thanksgiving Heist


My in-laws are creating a Thanksgiving circus. Have we lost our sense of occasion?

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For 25 years, I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving dinner. They began in our modest apartment in Pasadena at a time when money was tight, and our hopes and dreams seemed bright. Presaged by road trips to the famous Huntsinger Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, birds roamed free somehow less as captives and more like privileged avian creatures in California pastures.

We settled on the margins of his hometown; where a carousel of 30-something siblings were also newly married. New faiths and fallouts pulled each in different directions, but it was that standing summons to his parent’s house for holidays that calibrated my own. Tupperware and tantrums was the standard fare, and in a split-second moment of decision I opted out of the derision to create our own tradition.

Seating and silverware were scarce that year, and I’ll admit that we (my new sister-in-law and me) ate at the kitchen counter whilst our new husbands joined their family at table. (Bitter! Party of 2?) We borrowed pots, purchased pans, (the scorched French bisque was Au Bon Pain), and while this rite of passage would undergo revision, our first open house became a Thanksgiving tradition.

The family grew, as they do, more square feet and mouths to feed, china and crystal patterns are now complete. Today, it’s a well-rehearsed ride off Beverly Drive and why do they always request that “Cauliflower Pie?” Perhaps tradition is the illusion of permanence.

So many people have come and gone through the years sort of like Leaves; they shed after a single season. Or Branches; they can last several seasons but always seem to break in a storm. Then there’s the Roots; the very infrastructure of family life. Dear editor, here’s why I write:

My sister-in-law — with whom I began this Thanksgiving journey at the kitchen counter a quarter century ago — has never once asked us to her home on Thanksgiving. Year after year we always eat here, and it wasn’t until after we emerged from the pandemic that I solicited an invite of my own. Her declination came as a shock, and for the last year I’ve wrestled with and searched for the real meaning of this holiday.

Signed,
Down and Out in Beverly Hills

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Dear Beverly:

Those capricious leaves your referring to aren’t decorations, or seasonal holiday guests, but the very vessels of life and limb. Photosynthesis converts sunlight and water into sugar, and carbon dioxide into oxygen. Herbivores eat plants, carnivores eat herbivores, and both are dependent on O2. See how that works? In fact, your analogy of fickle leaves that come and go is flawed. They’re the food of life.

According to Thomas Hobbes, life in a state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." (Just ask any turkey). But for humans, pure self-interest leads to something called anarchy, and the father of modern political philosophy argued the Social Contract — an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits — was the cornerstone of civil society.

So as you concoct your sides and cauliflower pie this year remember that man and beast are different. Political, legal, and professional relationships are based on contracts (If A then B) and if your relationship with your sister-in-law is contractual best to let her see the fine print. People can’t play by the rules if they don’t know what they are.

If, however, your relationship is personal, remember those are characterized by seemingly selfless acts of service, and a very special ingredient called the miracle of forgiveness. We reap what we sow, and the Law of the Harvest isn’t a prediction. It’s a fail proof promise.

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