Misfit Thanksgiving: Four New Times Writers Recall Their Most Memorable Turkey Days

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Editor's note: As a holiday gift to you, dear readers, we asked some of our favorite writers to regale us with tales from the Thanksgiving table. Enjoy.

Laura Hahnefeld's Fantasy Thanksgiving

For most adults, running away from family commitments and responsibilities, especially on major holidays, is merely a fantasy — conjured up in the mind to escape the realities of impending personality clashes, expectations of joy that never will be realized, and someone's sorry excuse for a dish to pass.

On the first Thanksgiving after we were married, my husband and I, being childless and adult children ourselves, made a snap decision to play out the dream of family-free holiday freedom by ignoring all invitations to Turkey Day dinners and hightailing it to San Diego with little more than the clothes on our backs and a pack of Red Vines on the dashboard. When we arrived, the eighth-largest city in the United States was a mere ghost town, its inhabitants no doubt giving up a day of perfect outdoor weather to exercise their holiday rights of tryptophan, television, and two-hours-later leftovers.


New Times cafe

To get Julie Peterson's recipe for San Antonio eggnog and read about other Thanksgiving exploits from the likes of Robrt L. Pela, Eric Schaefer, and Sativa Peterson, visit our food blog, Chow Bella, at www.phxfood.com.

We scored a sweet room at the downtown Westin on Thanksgiving Eve and, for a few hours, kept the skeleton staff busy by ordering room-service hot fudge sundaes and running back and forth from the pool to the hot tub to our room, and in reverse order, until the sugar rush wore off and the management stopped calling to see if we were okay.

Logically, our next stop was the San Diego Zoo, which also was mostly devoid of humans, but happily, still had all its animals on hand, most of whom were enjoying some Thanksgiving Day treats of their own. With a front-row seat to all attractions, we watched with delight as brown bears chowed down on giant bones, giant tortoises ate salads of lettuce, and petting zoo goats and sheep ate kibble from our hands along with a portion of my camera strap.

The San Diego sunset came sooner than we expected and we found ourselves suddenly hungry and trolling the Gaslamp Quarter in search of a Thanksgiving Day meal from the sea. With few options, we settled on a seafood bistro whose staff couldn't wait to leave and whose food was both expensive and forgettable, but we gorged ourselves nonetheless, drinking enough wine to fuel our windy walk to the waterfront, where we listened to the waves and tried not to think about what our families might be up to, or what we would tell them when we returned.

Laura Hahnefeld is the restaurant critic for New Times and still doesn't know where she's spending Thanksgiving.

Laurie Notaro's Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Wine-Free, Fun-Free Vegan Thanksgiving

Last year, when my neighbor Louise asked us whether we'd like to join them for Thanksgiving, I almost kissed her on the lips. But I had to get some vital information before I started to pucker.

"Is butter allowed?" I asked.

"Yes . . .?" she replied, looking a little puzzled.

"Are the rolls made out of rice flour?" I queried.

"Eww! God, no!" she answered.

"Are other carnivores coming?"

"Of course!" she laughed. "Me!"

It was a huge relief, mainly because after the previous Thanksgiving, I was shell-shocked. Actually, that was putting it mildly. I was so wounded that I couldn't pass sliced turkey in the deli at Safeway without getting a little shaky.

The previous year wasn't the first Thanksgiving I had hosted; I was a veteran at getting a huge dinner together for the orphaned and lonely graduate students and colleagues of my husband who made up our circle of friends in Oregon. But as we all counted down the years we had lived in Eugene, strange things began to happen. Things began to change.

At one happy hour, a friend ordered a gardenburger. During a bowling excursion, someone refused the community cheese fries and then made a frowny face, shook his head and rubbed his belly. Another friend looked at the pizza that had just arrived at our table during a birthday celebration and said simply to the waitress, "I can't eat that! Can I just get a side of olives?"

This is what happens when you drink too much at social gatherings; you don't put the pieces of the puzzle together until you start inviting people to break turkey with you, and you find out who it is they've become. At first, a couple of them converted to vegetarianism, which is fine, because there's no meat in pumpkin pie and I just made more green beans. Then came the confession of intolerance. And in Eugene, that means no dairy, no gluten (also known as no joy in life, and it shows). Then the ultimate, which almost felt like a complete betrayal: "We are vegan, and that's with a capital V, thank you very much, pet eater."

I spent almost two days making three versions of each dish to accommodate all our guests. Mashed potatoes with olive oil and garlic. Sweet potatoes with maple syrup and almond butter. Pumpkin pie with agave and rice flour pastry. I had to buy something with the word "namaste" on it. Did you know that gluten-free rolls are eight bucks a bag? Did you? And you know what vegans bring to Thanksgiving? Hummus. Hummus and nut crackers, and believe me, when you look at your dining room table and there's 12 tubs of beige shit, it is very clear that you can easily have too much frigging hummus.

In the end, the bathroom was the most popular spot that holiday, because the dishes got mixed up (or purposefully ignored) and the dairy-free people ate the real mashed potatoes, a green bean accidentally grazed a piece of dead fowl, and the rolls and the hummus went absolutely untouched. Then someone announced they were allergic to wine and did we have any Martinelli's?

Allergic to wine?

I made a vow then that if we were ever going to host another Thanksgiving, it was simply going to be a platter of Lactaid and Imodium AD.

So when Louise asked us to her house for the holiday, I breathed a sigh of relief. She had just saved me a big trip to the pharmacy and the urge to bludgeon a sulfite-adverse hippie with a wine bottle.

"We'll come to Thanksgiving," I told Louise. "If we can somehow find out how to add meat to pumpkin pie."

Laurie Notaro's latest book,It Looked Different on the Model, is probably still available at bookstores. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. Raised in Phoenix, she now lives in Oregon.In addition to curative incense burning.

Tania Katan's Gasoline-Soaked Thanksgiving

In a small rental car due back the next day at the same time, we sped toward Morenci, Arizona. It was Thanksgiving Day, and my new girlfriend (who looked like a cross between Roma Downey and a real angel) held my hand as it rested gently on the emergency brake. Within the first few minutes of hitting the road she said, "Tania, it smells like gasoline. Do you smell it?" I didn't smell anything except for new love and my mother's chestnut-sausage stuffing beckoning us to drive faster. "Nope. No gasoline here!"

It's weird how quickly an angel can morph into your mother when constant, unsubstantiated nagging emits from her lips. "I'm serious, Tania, it smells like gasoline. You really don't smell it?"

"I really don't smell it, because it's really nonexistent."

Every 15 minutes her verbal tic spit out some new analysis of the phantom smell. "It's gas. I'm sure of it. Gasoline. It's in the car!" 

Eventually, I pulled over, bought some incense and lit a match to fix the situation. "See. It's fine. Now it smells like cedar chips, not gasoline. Are you happy?"

We were late and getting later for our 24-hour Thanksgiving road trip.

The problem was that Jack gave us directions. As a welder for Phelps Dodge, my mother's new husband, Jack, spent most of his time avoiding sparks. So when asked for directions, he made sure to cover all the bases. "Well, you see, when you get on the 191, you're gonna get off at Burro Alley. In about 13 — nope, 14 — miles, you're gonna get to a fork in the road by the old gas station that used to be a supermarket; when you get to that gas station, you'll wanna turn left. That's what I always wanna do, but that ain't right. You turn right and . . ." Thank God they called it Mapquest and not Jackquest.

 We made it to my mom's house, popped open the trunk, and a cloud of gasoline smacked me in the face! The trunk was drenched in gasoline. I could have killed us with cedar-chip incense! I apologized to my new love.

"I am such an idiot, I'm sorry." Her angel wings wrapped around me, we tongue-kissed, greeted my family, and called the rental car company.

 It wasn't so much a knock on the front door as a thud and the sound of metal scraping across concrete. In a town of a thousand people, you don't ask who it is; you just open the door. So Mom did. He stood at about seven feet tall with every part of him overflowing. His beard, hair, belly. A rusted metal crowbar was his makeshift cane. "I'm with the towing company," he said flatly, as if getting his tow-truck-driving certification required him to impale his frontal lobe with a J-hook.

My sister sneaked out of the living room and stage-whispered for my brother, girlfriend and me to join her in the kitchen. "You guys, I saw him on America's Most Wanted! He killed his entire family!"

Mom yelled from the living room, "We have another guest for Thanksgiving! Will you guys please warm up a plate?!"

We sat in a circle, like a support group for any number of reasons: alarmists, pyromaniacs, lobotomy survivors. He ate, never looking down at his plate, maintaining perfect eye contact with each one of us, like the Mona Lisa; wherever our eyes moved, his followed. We asked him some questions to make him, and us, feel more at home.

Us: So, it must be hard working on Thanksgiving, huh?

Him: No.

Us: I'm sure your family is missing you tonight, right?

Him: Don't have any.

Us: You ever watch America's Most Wanted?

Him: (Silence.)

When questions failed, our family did what we do best: ignored him. We played Trivial Pursuit. After several hours of placing tiny plastic pie-wedges in our respective wheels of genius, we realized that he was still there. Finally, he creaked out of his chair, grabbed his crowbar, and said, "You guys are . . . funny. Like, weird."

And he was gone.

Tania Katan is the co-organizer of theupcoming TEDx Scottsdale event, "Rethinking the Grid," at the new SMoCA Lounge.

Julie Peterson's Misfit Thanksgiving

A lot of people find Thanksgiving a super-family-oriented holiday. When I worked for a realtor's answering service, there were fewer people calling to buy houses on Thanksgiving than on any other day, even Christmas. But at our house (maybe because there weren't that many of us to begin with; maybe because of that whole Pilgrim-Indian-brotherhood-hospitality thing), we often had Thanksgiving dinner with people I barely knew, whom my mom invited out of the goodness of her heart.

The open-door policy might also have come from the fact that we were a "blended" family decades before it was chic. Our empowered, unflappable women solve problems by hopping freight trains, assaulting attempted rapists, threatening to hit street toughs with a Saturn sedan, or, if necessary, divorcing somebody.

So the list of ingredients in the family purée grew with time: half-siblings, a few stepparents, some real pieces of work who share my gene pool, and a few genuine treasures who don't. One of the latter, Grandma C., was a statuesque redhead whose elegance was sometimes mistaken for unreachable standards. She could seem, therefore, intimidating, but the tension all dissolved the year someone forgot to whip the potatoes before we sat down to eat, which somehow (aided, perhaps, by the application of wine) led to four grown women and an electric mixer squished into a galley kitchen, flecked with fluffy, warm spuds and gasping with laughter.

But it got weirder the year my siblings were out of town and I decided to host Misfit Thanksgiving — a dinner party of assorted Phoenix artists who couldn't or wouldn't spend the day with their own families and chose to spend it together — at my house and include my parents and their own holiday orphan: a lonely, unhappy former neighbor entirely without inhibitions, which is kind of a cool combo when you think about it. We'll call her Roxie. She was also really big, like maybe 400 pounds or more.

Misfit Thanksgiving started off on the right foot when the resident vegetarian, five months pregnant, found herself irresistibly craving turkey, so I knew we'd have actual food that everyone would eat. Another guest made a fabulous mushroom soup in a huge pot I didn't know at the time he'd shoplifted for the occasion. (I owned a huge pot, but anarchy still confuses me.) In the interest of scrupulous accuracy, I believe I heard he sneaked the pot back into the store later on.

Vittles-wise, it was good. And my parents had traveled with and been adored by many of these misfits for years already. Several small tables in our family room made for cozy conviviality. Then came the after-dinner chitchat.

My husband remembers Roxie dropping the n-word at least once. I remember a conversation about the details of washing oneself — how, how do these things start? — and Roxie explaining to my comparatively tiny shoplifting friend, whom she had trapped against one end of the sofa, how well a handheld shower head worked for rinsing off "down there."

God bless us every one.

.Julie Peterson is also a freelance theater artist. In spring 2012, she'll be jurying scripts submitted to New Carpa Theater's "Performing Justice" festival.

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