Notes From a California Thanksgiving

don't stopIt was a good Thanksgiving. Having been busy launching a business for the past few months, the house was in dire need of cleaning, straightening and organizing, a job that we took care of in between the roasting of the turkey and the mashing of the sweet potatoes and endless chopping of onions and garlic.

At ten I put on running shoes, intending only two or three miles but finding myself going farther and farther, down toward the water, drawn on by the beauty of the day and the red outline of the bridge crisp against a clear blue sky.  Four pelicans flapped low across the water of the bay and I sent a wish after them.

The streets were noticeably quiet but the running path was sprinkled with more walkers than usual, couples and family clusters, with solo runners here and there.

My hair dried from the shower while I vacuumed and dusted and Windexed mirrors and cleaned toilets, all jobs we have let cheerfully languish for lo these many weeks.  Meanwhile every burner on the stove was chuffing steam, the oven and crockpot laboring fragrantly away.

At 3p it was discovered that the cornerstone of the dessert table had been forgotten but it was too late to do anything about it but cuss creatively and let it go.  The host chose a black t-shirt, the hostess white with an orange velvet jacket that had only always and ever been worn on Thanksgiving Day.

The afternoon sun was slanting its rays into the living room, infusing the dog’s fur with a warm brown halo of light, when guests arrived. The kitchen thick with smells stirred with a sudden flurry of arms with their fresh vapor trails of outside air.

The good doctor gave his strong-armed hugs that make everything seem instantly better. His wife brought her calm, radiant energy to our final preparations, the kitchen brimming with music and talk

After proving they were taller than their hostess, the teen-aged girl and her almost teen brother were fascinated by the turntable, having never seen an actual needle touch actual vinyl and produce music.

“Jack Johnson” they squealed, and talk among the adults turned to travel, for we are nearly all Sagittarius and despite what everyone knows about such things, we all share a love of travel, not to mention sports that require great leg strength.

The bachelor brought a date dressed so beautifully I briefly considered making her a permanent art installation in the foyer. He fills the room with six and half feet of lanky cheer and immediately distributes gifts of fine wine and Scotch. He unpacks mixers and aerators.

Trays of nuts and plates of cheeses with raspberries and comically large green grapes were discovered and nibbled. Wine was poured. Someone tried the pear cinnamon cider and pronounced it good.

A fiery salsa that has been known to bring tears to men’s eyes proves no match for the bachelor, who eats tablespoon-sized servings on a single chip while smiling a twinkly smile at the rest of us.   The twelve-year old pronounces himself a lover of hummus. Hardly anyone eats the chips.

At sunset the western windows were lit up with golden light and everyone admired the salmon pink clouds and I remembered that I had forgotten to put out the lox with the cheese but kept quiet about it, since dinner would soon be ready.

It was revealed that the family dog of the guests was downstairs in the car, and  with much ado was brought inside, bringing the total of tail-wagging teen-aged chocolate Labradors bunting shins with their wide meaty backs to two, and the number of barks for joy to six or so.  Dog toys were immediately discovered, and liberally deposited across the kitchen and hallway floors.

The game cabinet was rifled and Chinese Checkers were played. The LiteBrite was discovered, the giraffe light sculpture replaced with a dove surrounded by flowers.

Dinner began with a simple toast that lasted no more than twenty seconds, as the best of them do. We clinked mismatched flutes of cranberry-stained champagne and fell to. There was much passing of dishes, hold this please, and ‘here, let me just serve you’s’.

The food all turned out fine. The table was far too crammed for a centerpiece or candles, so we spread the tapers about the room, and candlelight glimmered from the book shelves and the sill with its window open to the mild California air.

A huge green salad in its wooden swimming pool bowl had to be balanced on a nearby coffee table. The California paella with spicy sausage instead of stuffing was a hit. Ham and turkey were passed back and forth. The boy asked for the recipe to the Brussels sprouts, thick with caramelized onions and garlic.

Dessert was chocolate bread pudding and profiteroles with pumpkin ice-cream, using mini-canelés for the pastry. I looked up a recipe for caramel and made it on the stove and it turned out beautifully.

After dinner we adjourned to the salon where we strove to out-entertain one another. The teen-aged girl who is achingly beautiful and talented presented us with pencil portraits of ourselves, which she’d made throughout the day. My drawing is flattering, thirty-five years subtracted from my face, fierce and elfin and serious.

The boy takes his turn on the floor, reciting a poem of his own writing and reminding me of my own early forays into poetry at exactly this same age. I admire his unselfconscious confidence, which I think is the greatest gift a parent can give a child.

You have books everywhere! he’d said to me earlier. Everywhere I look there are piles of books! I admitted it was true, omitting the fact that there are even more books in boxes stored far away but still longing for their forever home on my shelves and tables and floors.

There was a sing-a-long to Queen, and an even louder one to Journey, and a Two-Truths-and-a-Lie challenge by the bachelor that flummoxed everyone but the host (but seriously the Beastie Boys anecdote sounded false). The Salon Awards were duly awarded and exclaimed over, for they were purchased of course with those specific winners in mind by the hostess, who enjoys such things.

Somehow in the midst of all of this large amounts of dishes were washed and dried and leftovers were packed up, so that when the last guest had called the last goodbye, all that needed doing before bed was to collect up all the glasses and blow out the fugitive candles.

When the host climbed into bed just after midnight he found a small envelope containing a tiny card with its birthday wish, and a fat turquoise heart made of stone that fit nicely in the palm, quickly warming to his hand. The dog leaped to the foot of the bed and lay his chin on his master’s foot, and everyone drifted uneventfully to sleep.

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