Thanksgiving has always been hard enough, freighted as it is with tradition and compromise.
His family must have creamed onions. Hers detests them but considers the holiday uncelebrated if rutabagas fail to make an appearance.
One demands chestnut dressing, another says, "Why don't we try Julia Child's tapenade stuffing this year?"
Friends join in. Do we mind jalapeno cornbread? Potatoes? Baked sweet? Candied yams? Good old mashed? Better play it safe. Make all three.
Cranberry sauce? He wants Nina Totenberg's mother's recipe, as heard on NPR. They want the recipe on the bag of cranberries. I whisper guiltily: "What's wrong with the jellied sauce right out of the can, like I had as a kid?"
Jellied cranberry sauce? I've been thinking of it for several days now, ever since I got a Thanksgiving e-mail alert from Pottery Barn Kids.
Pottery Barn wants us to spiff up the Thanksgiving kids table -- and they're willing to help us do it, for a price. For only $39, you can transform the holiday memory for your child, and three others, and all with just a little plastic. You get a four-place melamine setting, charmingly decorated with a slick version of the kind of turkey a kid would draw at school -- you know, putting your hand on the paper and outlining your fingers to represent the fan of feathers.
Great memories, in four 81/2-inch plates, four 6-inch bowls and four 3-inch cups.
This is how you transform the kids table. Did you have a kids table? When we gathered, we had one set of grandparents, two sons, three daughters and spouses -- 12 adults at the table.
Where to put the kids, who in the early years were only a dozen but eventually grew to 18?
They sat at the kids table -- in the living room, as far from the grown-ups and their old family gold-rimmed china as Siberia. For several years, I quite enjoyed the distance from the boring adults, together with the cousins, and the sure knowledge that you didn't have to worry about some aunt keeping an eye on your behavior at the table.
Then some of my older cousins moved on to the adult table, when spaces opened up because of divorce -- or when one family moved out of Thanksgiving range. My sister and I were left behind, eternal children, it seemed to us, never adults, trapped in the land of jellied cranberry sauce.
Would Pottery Barn have made a difference? In the catalogue, Joseph looks mighty happy, smiling in his Thanksgiving apron ($19). Baby Riley is even more joyful, decked out in bib, burping towel at the ready, also for just $19.
And don't forget baby's first Thanksgiving dish set, with a sectioned plate, suction bowl and sippy cup, again for only $19.
They thought of everything -- maybe you don't have an extra table. (Only $129, order by noon on Nov. 21 for guaranteed Thanksgiving delivery.)
There's other help out there to make Thanksgiving better. Crate & Barrel offers a turkey platter for $29.95, covered pumpkin bowls (made in Portugal) for $8.95 to $19.95. Bed, Bath & Beyond will put a Harvest Gathering tablecloth on your table for $12.99 ($19.99 if you have a big table like my grandparents') and a set of four napkins to go with it at $9.99. Williams-Sonoma, besides the cranberry relish and chestnuts in syrup and pumpkin bread mix, offers a covered turkey bowl (in red or amber pressed glass) for cranberry sauce, turkey candleholders, a Spode turkey platter (at $119) and an earthenware turkey centerpiece, with an antiqued crackled finish, at just $139.
It all sounds pretty nice. On the other hand, where are you going to store all this stuff? Bring it out with the Christmas decorations?
I don't know. On a holiday that comes down to that tension between tradition and compromise, I'll stick with as much tradition as I can get away with. And it seems to me that mine doesn't come from the pages of a catalogue but is rooted in that long-gone Siberia, with its mismatched plates and cousins' table manners. And it's the memories, after all, not the place settings, that I want to bring back to the table year after year.