I used to fantasize about having a big family gathering for Thanksgiving. I pictured a house full of people, a big shiny turkey, and all the fixings. Instead, it was just me, my parents, and my brother, a dry chicken, and Stove Top Stuffing.
Every year I asked my mom, “Why don’t you invite everyone to our house?”
“Because I don’t want to cook for so many people,” she’d say.
After my brother Greg moved to California for college, Thanksgiving became even more pathetic with just me and my parents. But at least we had convinced my mother to give up on baking fowl, and we began the tradition of Mongolian hot pot.
After I got married, I finally got my big family gathering, but along with that came a lot of stress. Every year my ex’s aunt would offer to host, but somehow the big day always ended up my in-laws’, despite the fact that my mother-in-law was bedridden with Parkinson’s disease. It was a pride thing: my father-in-law, the eldest in the family, didn’t want to lose face and so felt compelled to host 10 to 12 people every November.
What made things worse was that he was obsessive about cleanliness. At eight AM, he’d wake us up to wash dishes, cups, and utensils that were already clean. My ex, who was a good cook, was in charge of the food, which he resented with every ounce of his being while his parents considered it his duty.
Rather, it should have been my duty, as the daughter-in-law in a traditional Korean house, but I can’t cook. I’ll wash all the dishes in the world, but you don’t want me in charge of an elaborate meal. Of course my ex knew this about me before we married, but still he thought I would miraculously change. As for me, I had buried my head in the sand about my in-laws’ expectations.
Throughout the day, my ex and his parents would fight. About a week before any big family gathering, my eye would start to twitch in anticipation of all the fighting that would occur. I guess my ex felt put upon having to be in charge of stuff all the time. My mother-in-law would become very stressed out. Like her husband, she worried a lot about losing face, and while she couldn’t do anything, she’d hover and worry about what we were doing.
By the time the guests arrived, everyone would be calm and happy, as though nothing had happened. But my eye would still be twitching.
After four years of these kinds of Thanksgivings, I grew to detest the holiday. That first one after my divorce, I was still burning with anger and resentment. I ran away to L.A. and had Thanksgiving with my brother, who cooked a big and yummy meal for the two of us and a friend. We had many multiple servings.
The Thanksgiving after that one my mother and I had a huge fight. Basically, she was hurt that I had distanced myself from her and my dad after my divorce, but guised it in the fact that I had neglected to bring a hostess gift. But the turkey days since that one have been much better. By November 2007, I was dating MB, and the following November, he joined me at my parents’ house.
In 2009, our first in California, was that festive Thanksgiving I had always dreamed about. MB and I flew down to L.A. since my parents and aunt were staying with my grandmother in Orange County while my uncle and his family were away. My brother Greg was also there, along with my cousin, her husband, and their daughter. Greg single-handedly cooked a delicious meal for 11 people! You can feast your eyes on the pictures in the linked post.
I loved that day because it was fun and low-stress. Everyone who was there wanted to be there. Greg wanted to cook that meal (I presume!). My aunt and mother buzzed around him, not really believing that he could cook, and everyone was (overly) surprised at how delicious everything was.
Last Thanksgiving was quiet but peaceful. My grandmother had just died, and MB and I were exhausted from traveling down to L.A. for the funeral, then back up to the Bay Area for the burial. While the funeral and burial were sad, it was also weirdly fun to be around all of my family. But a couple of days of that was enough. By Thanksgiving, I only wanted to be around MB.
The city was so quiet (except of course for the grocery store). Our building seemed empty. It was almost like this little world of just me and MB.
Tomorrow is more of the same. I can’t wait.