Whatever else Thanksgiving is, it's the day mothers get it. Is there any other day she spends more time in the kitchen than on Thanksgiving?
Last year I clocked it: nine hours from the time I cut the cold, dripping bird free from its plastic wrapper to the time I finished picking the bits of soup meat from the cracked and simmered carcass.
In that nine hours I got the stuffed bird in the oven, ironed a tablecloth and three napkins that get hauled out exactly once a year, peeled and mashed squash and potatoes, steamed peas, scrubbed and de-strung celery, spooned into dishes cranberry jelly and olives, made gravy (wondering, as I do every year, how some women manage to get quarts of the stuff when I can barely squeeze out a cupful), served the whole thing, cleared the remains away, served pie (one -- apple -- made the day before), hacked up the rest of the bird for future meals and made the soup stock.
I almost didn't do Thanksgiving last year. I even announced defensively to the two males in my family that we'd eat out. That after all, nobody helps me. How would they like to spend all day in the kitchen?
The howls of protest from my adolescent son were so full of shocked incredulity there was just no way I was going to get off the hook.
I don't know any woman who looks forward to Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, my own mother started whining about a week or so before The Big Day. "This year we're going to keep it simple," she'd announce as she dragged her best china out of the cupboard for its annual appearance. When she enlisted my sister and me (but never any of my three brothers) to wash the china and iron the linens and polish the sterling silver tableware, she'd whimper, "I don't know why we bother with this. It's such a nuisance." And all day long, cooped up in the kitchen watching the oven, she'd sigh in exasperation, "This turkey is so slow."
Accompanying the whining was the drone of the TV football game, glued to by my father and brothers.
Finally the slow turkey caught up and the moaning abated. My sister and I lugged the loaded plates and platters past the four inert creatures in the den and onto the dining-room table. Mother, released from the kitchen long enough to eat, came to the table -- apron still on. That was the signal for the zombies to pry themselves from the tube and descend on the food, without so much as a greeting to the three drones who made it all possible.
It never got better, even after I was married and vowed Thanksgiving would be different in my home.
The first Thanksgiving my husband and I spent alone, I was seven months pregnant and heavily into playing house.
The football game barked in the background while I schlepped in the kitchen, struggling not to whine about trying to get it all together in a tiny kitchen with one tiny sink. Almost every time my husband wandered in to fetch another beer, he found me up to my elbows in the sink, which prompted him to say at one point, "I suppose you'll be washing dishes more or less all day, huh?"
But what could I expect from a man whose mother was the sort that made a huge fuss over Thanksgiving? The first year I knew her, my mother-in-law announced two weeks before Thanksgiving, "Well, I have to start my baking now."
And bake she would, running through a barrelful of flour as she cranked out pies and cakes and breads. And she'd order up a 30-pound turkey because at her table there'd always be at least 25 people, from babes in arms to great-grandparents.
Now, you might think that's the way Thanksgiving ought to be, a regular Norman Rockwell extended-family get-together. Except . . . my mother-in-law hated it.
Is it the same for every woman?
Last year, as I roamed the supermarket in search of olives and a sturdy butternut squash and collected the turkey I'd ordered, I peered at the faces of other women pushing shopping baskets laden with all the fixin's. They didn't, any of them, look too happy. Hardly a smile on all those faces. And why should there be?
Anyway, the name's all wrong. Ask any mother about what the day has turned out to be, and I'll bet she'll opt to call it The Day We Get Mother.