I Was a Thanksgiving Orphan

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving don't measure up to the Norman Rockwell standard. Peace and harmony were nowhere to be found in our apartment. I knew that before the food hit the table my mother would annoy my dad so much he'd unleash a fusillade of insults, invariably punctuated by his favorite barb -- "you old battle-axe." So much for one big happy family sharing gratitude. To add insult to injury, my mother was the world's worst cook. Everything was roasted, boiled, and sautéed until it turned to mush or resembled shoe leather. Yum!

Given my history, you might assume that celebrating national overeating day by myself in peace and quiet would have satisfied me in my 20s and 30s. After all, isn't everything good or bad by comparison? Yet I've always found being alone on Thanksgiving Day supremely depressing. Somehow it was a lower blow than not being part of the Christmas celebration, perhaps because in New York City the Jewish delis were still open and that made me feel less like a leper.

Ending up unattached on America's yearly overeating day was the price I paid for my serial monogamist lifestyle. Depending on the timing of my latest breakup, whether I had a home to go to on Thanksgiving was a crapshoot. To make matters worse, I chose to be a vegetarian for 14 years. No game birds, gravy, or sausage-laced stuffing ever touched these lips. My draconian culinary rules made me an undesirable invite even for those well-meaning folks who try to earn a place in heaven by taking in their homeless single friends on turkey day.

I came to dread the innocent co-worker question: "So, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?" Due to my Catholic upbringing, the unvarnished truth -- "nothing," -- always jumped out of my mouth before an appropriate little white lie leapt in. This admission led to some uncomfortable situations.

In one case, an attorney I worked with, who was a semi-vegetarian herself, pressured me with kindness and I ended up at her house enjoying specially made non-meat contaminated stuffing. What I didn't expect was that she had bigger plans in mind. Soon after I arrived, a straggler named Mike showed up. He proceeded to regale the group with his recent adventures hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, complete with topographic maps to illustrate the difficulty of this athletic feat. It finally dawned on me that this was a chaperoned blind date. No dice. I dismissed him as a braggart and refused to take his calls.

I had an even more awkward experience the next year. I'd recently hired a new paralegal and by the end of November it had become apparent that she wasn't up to the task. She posed the usual holiday question and I gave her my all-too-honest answer: "I have no plans." She flashed a sympathetic look and I thought nothing more of it. Then, the day before Thanksgiving, she came into my office with and presented me with a turkey dinner and all the fixin's that she'd picked up for me at Boston Market. It was such a sweet gesture that I didn't have the heart to fire her as planned. Luckily, a few months later she left of her own accord.

Now I'm a happily married, fully recovered vegetarian and able to celebrate the holiday like a true American. And at least until my husband dies I can revel in my graduation from the ranks of the Thanksgiving strays.