Thanksgiving was on a Thursday this year.
I mention that because it's become a minor point of contention between my mother and I. When November rolls around and discussions of what to do for the holidays come up, I always ask, "What day is Thanksgiving this year?" She responds with a date, and then I ask, "What day of the week is that?"
She will invariably explode, "What do you mean, 'what day is that'? Thanksgiving is always the last Thursday in November!"
"Always! I've been telling you it's on a Thursday for [fifteen/twenty/twenty-five] years now!"
"Huh. Who decided that?"
"I don't know, it's just the way it is!"
"Well why did they pick a Thursday? I mean, it seems kind of arbitrary to me."
"Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday. Holy Thursday is always on a Thursday. Good Friday is always on a Friday. Easter Sunday is always on a Sunday. Mother's Day is always on a Sunday."
"Huh. Mother's Day is always on a Sunday?"
She always changes the subject when we get to that part. The last few years the conversation has become more of a ritual, but there's still a lot of exasperation on her part because it was only about three years ago that I actually remembered Thanksgiving really does fall on a Wednesday every year. Thursday. Whatever.
This year, we did the same thing we do every year. Get together with the mellowest family members for an entire day of cooking, nibbling, watching football, and napping. We save the high-powered, energetic and/or ill behaved relatives for other holidays. Thanksgiving to us is for taking turns in the kitchen and then spreading out in well-fed blobs around the fireplace or the television, in no particular order. Sure, when the turkey is done, there is a generally concentrated event of eating, followed by an equally concentrated event of falling asleep where we sit, be it in front of the TV (my dad), at the dinner table with a half-chewed mouthful of turkey (my daughter), or halfway in the refrigerator with a face buried in the produce crisper (me). But dinner is really just the most coordinated part of an entire day spent doing the same thing. This year, as I was thoughtfully chewing my way through yet another one of my mother's banana cream pies, I was inspired as to which story to tell this week. I had been contemplating a tale from my husband's side of the family, about the rise and fall of the 55 MPH pig. But then I got to thinking that a lot of my columns talk about people and animals in contention. The dog urinates on me. My grandfather nearly blows up the neighborhood trying to kill a nest of ground bees. My husband's grandfather and a chicken get into a no-holds barred battle to the death. Yes, on this day characterized by the eating of innocent birds, I felt moved to relate my other favorite holiday story. The one wherein my mother strikes a blow for cats everywhere. An animal rights story for Thanksgiving, if you will. It's also part of the reason why we pick this one holiday a year to hide from the relatives. It starts with a pie.
My mother makes epic custard pies. Banana cream or pumpkin, they are ethereal and divine, which is amazing because my mother claims to loathe sweets. Her pies are in high demand throughout our family, and once upon a time, the pies could lure our relatives to come from out of state to visit us on Thanksgiving. One of the last years we all got together, my uncle and his wife were sitting in our living room. My mother had several magical pumpkin pies cooling on the enclosed back porch. We had three cats at the time, one of whom was an evil mastermind. He snuck out onto the back porch during the last pie check and had just enough time to eat a perfect circle out of the center of one of the pumpkin pies when my mother caught him. The pies were too good to pitch just because a cat nibbled on part of one, so my mother cut around where the cat had touched, discarding any part that had come in direct contact with cat lips, figuring she would save that pie for immediate family.
She returned to the living room, followed by the (rather smug) cat. Seeing the cat inspired our then-Aunt Mary to relate what she felt was a horror story, about how disgusting it was to have animals inside the house. Mary had just been to a bridal shower where she absolutely refused to eat any of the cake because -- you guessed it -- they had walked into the kitchen only to see the cat nibbling the icing at one end of the cake. During the course of the story, my cat (the dumb, good natured one) had wandered over to sniff Mary's leg. As she wrapped up the story, she looked down and gave my cat a ripping good kick to shoo it away. At that moment, Mary became "immediate family".
My mother smiled beatifically and asked her if she would like a piece of pumpkin pie.
Mom had the most lovely expression on her face as Mary raved about how delicious the pie was. Indeed we were all somewhat surprised at how well the visit was going, until after they left and my mother confessed her sins. Mom is certain that she will do time in Purgatory for her actions, especially because even now she cannot come up with one iota of remorse, but I'm not so sure. I told the story again as we walked with one of the other mothers in the neighborhood, and she agreed with me that there was more than a little justice dished out that Thanksgiving Day.
"That reminds me," our friend said. "I still have no idea what we're going to do for Thanksgiving. What day of the week does it fall on this year?"
"Thursday!" Mom exploded, giving me an incredulous look to see if I had set her up. "It's always on a Thursday!"
"Huh," said our friend. "Always? Who decided that, I wonder?"
I gave my mother a smile as she sputtered, trying not to dump her irritation with my decades of spaciness on our innocent friend. I don't think she'll have to pay for the pumpkin pie incident in the afterlife. She's a mom. Anything she's due, she's already got back from me in spades.
Ain't family grand?
Comments and "cat-licked" pie recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin