...with no chance of my getting back there until at least after Saint Valentine’s Day. Thanksgiving has been special for me on the road and I’m going to get back to that in just a moment, but this is going to be my first Christmas Eve ever away from home. That is being solved by having Christmas Eve on Hayes Ave that Friday night before I fly out to AZ, which may end up being a larger crowd than I’m used to having on the actual night and that’s fine by me. We’ll have a steady flow of Belgian beers, good wines and all agree while watching It’s A Wonderful Life that Pottersville is a better place to party than Bedford Falls.
My next gig opens the day after Thanksgiving, so I’m not sure what that day will be like but I’ve been used to having that holiday move around. When I work a certain dinner theatre in Ohio we get several days off for the big holidays but Mom and I, with whomever else we can gather around the table with my Grandmother’s china, have the feast the day before so I can make the drive back and rest up before the next show. But the more real Thanksgiving for me began in my college days.
Wesleyan University in my day had a vibrant theater department and we were a very tight crew who worked each other’s shows and there were lots of shows. Some weekends it wasn’t possible for even a civilian to see everything that was offered on stages conventional or alternative. They were exciting times. As October turned to November thoughts of home and being once again responsible within household rules for even a few days started coming forth and into conversations. The gist of peoples’ thinking was that as much as we wanted a break from classes and to see our families and old friends again we really wished we could have Thanksgiving as our on campus theatrical family. God bless my roommate, Max, who said, “Why not?” So on the Sunday night before our break we did.
Max and I shared an on campus apartment in the William Street high rise and with two other classmates had been doing a food co-op for lunches and dinners so most of our training wheels were off this far into the semester. We were all sprawled on beds and across the floors of the bedrooms, kitchen and into the hallway. When everyone had their plate of turkey or vegetarian alternate Max called for silence and placed the tone arm onto the moving LP on the turntable. A few soft scratches later there were those wonderful circular chords and Arlo Guthrie started into singing Alice’s Restaurant.
This party has only been not held once in the over thirty years of its history and no, it wasn’t because of 9/11 although from it’s post graduate home of NYC it did move to Cambridge, MA because Max’s apartment with his family was so far downtown and we all knew it was important for it to occur, especially with some of us now having children to pass this along to. I had the last perfect attendance record but facing old friends I’d been onstage with and letting them know I was bartending—“no really, I’m bartending”—got old and I was away from the feast for some time but I’ve almost always been able to call and get passed around on the phone during the dinner, otherwise for non attending folk one of the turkeys gets named after us. I hope they know how very much I’ve missed being there.
The reason now is I’m generally working a show someplace and am far too far away to make it, so my phone will get used again to call them. This year’s party, the 35th will be held in Connecticut and on the second Saturday I’ll be in Arizona for rehearsals. I started thinking about the party and how grown up so many of my “nieces and nephews” must be by now and how long in the tooth we grown ups must be looking to the children, several of whom are already older than we were when this tradition began. The prospect of missing that, most likely having my dress rehearsal on Thanksgiving itself and ultimately being away for all of Christmas, really hit me hard until I saw a solution. I’ll do the meal myself for this gangbusters group of kids I’m so blessed to get to work with and with just under three weeks to go I’d better get my middle aged ass in gear and get to planning.
I’m not going to bore you with details of every dish for I believe it’s more important for you to think of the comforting courses you grew up knowing and loving and now sharing with your families by blood or theatrical happenstance. I will mention that one item was something nobody had heard of before and that was my Mama Cavanaugh’s Irish Stuffing. It’s potatoes boiled up with onions in turkey stock then mashed and flavored heavily with poultry seasoning. I’ve always loved it and I feel I am home when I make it. In my homemade steam tables to keep the food hot, I had the turkey carved and portioned with gravy, some sweet potatoes that weren’t tooth achingly too sweet and creamed onions, for as one friend of mine well knows, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without creamed onions.”
Well, thanks to Youtube I found Arlo singing Alice’s Restaurant but it was the 30th anniversary live performance that tells of then President Carter’s son telling Arlo that they found the original album in the record stash the Nixons left in their speedy departure and just maybe the length of the recording accounts for certain erased minutes from Nixon’s Watergate Tapes… I’m not sure how many of the kids got how funny this was but they indulged this old man. I do believe they began to get how important it was for me to do the dinner and share the song. I’m not going to lie to you here and now that at the end they all sang along on the chorus. No, but trust me, in future telling they will, and in four part harmony too. I am learning to take what comes with the knowledge that I can control more of it than I used to think, and that is a comfort for a grown up. I know wherever I am, whenever I’m there, I can make sure I’ll never miss A Thanksgiving Dinner That Couldn’t Be Beat.