The wood-paneled station wagon is loaded with the family on their way to an awkward Thanksgiving reunion with the eldest child, April, a punk-rocker living in a NYC walk-up. Dad reminds the backseat brood: “Just remember, everybody, April is cooking.” The mother replies with an eye roll, “We’ll need an extra dozen glazed.”
This dialogue is probably more a true portrait of Americana than we know. It’s a slice of life from one of my favorite indie films, “Pieces of April,” by Peter Hedges. It’s also my Thanksgiving cinematic tradition. This edge-of-seat ride of a story brings an unfocused family into a tight place – and lets the viewer know that their own family or feast might not be so hard to endure after all.
I love Thanksgiving and all that it brings – from turkey to dressing to dysfunction to mayonnaise. The cultural recipe differs from home to home and never has the same measurements of religion or ritual. Kind of a one-size-fits-all holiday.
Yet even the best intentions can get lost somewhere between the gravy and the yams, with pettiness, opinions and perceptions leading our plans for a classic Norman Rockwell gathering into a Jackson Pollack free-for-all.
A few friends have shared their November nightmares with me and, now that time offers distance, they are hilarious: The blazing drippings-inspired oven fire, blizzards, towed cars, unexpected meals (vending machine cheese sandwiches), a flat pumpkin pie, unacceptable oyster-jalapeno dressing, and a Chinese duck staring from its bed of rice; not to mention the bruised shins under the kid’s table, gridiron rivalry, the uninvited guests … hell, the invited guests.
What’s a pilgrim to do? Eat, drink, and be nice.
Besides, you can’t really argue or complain if your mouth is full of broccoli casserole.
Living in California, I so missed Kentucky that I turned the central air down to the 60s while the turkey was roasting in order to “feel” Novemberish. Just outside our windows (blinds shut) were avocado, lemon and palm trees – hardly an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods visual.
Years later, I was back in the Commonwealth hauling groceries for a Thanksgiving feast on a frigid November night, when I slipped at the end of a long deck and my prized 12-pound, frozen-solid bird flew out of the bag and bounced onto the wooden planks. I watched in horror as it slid, spinning in a blur all the way down, followed by a silent airborne moment before it crashed into the woods. Alas, the beast had returned to its natural habitat. The bottles of Snapple were next, clanging and tinkling down the ramp and over the edge to join the Butterball.
I sprained my uvula screaming, but dinner was not spoiled. I probably needed that moonlit search-and-rescue hike just to get me in the spirit.
As for April, despite one chaotic mishap after another, she pulls it together. With the family finally taking their seats in the tiny dining nook, she summons her thoughts of the day, the homemade decorations and canned vegetables looking quite nice in the flickering candlelight.
“Once, there was this day ... this one day ... when everyone realized they needed each other.”