There’s something about scurrying down Chicago Avenue in the rain, with one of your best friends, while carrying a 12-pound turkey in a Beck’s bag.
It’s comical, of course: the fact that the conventional array of Spanish textbooks, Tolstoy novels, what have you, is momentarily replaced by an uncooked piece of poultry. But I think that elusive “something” arises from a sentiment more difficult to slap a title on than mere humor. Absurd, and yet still necessary, trying, but redeemed by good company, this journey from Jewel to a friend’s kitchen has come to resemble how I spent Thanksgiving 2009.
I’ve never been one for holidays, Christmas especially. While a sucker for snow-globe-redolent mornings and Frank Capra black and white, I’ve always felt that the day itself — in the wake of such frenzied hype and laden with compulsory cheer — inevitably disappoints. Thanksgiving seems equally susceptible to letdown. I have oddly learned to adore the watery globs that are my Aunt Sandy’s mashed potatoes, even find myself genuinely laughing at my Dad’s tipsy tales of his youth. But the idea that reunion and merriment are only truly necessary over this one meal in November always seemed a little silly. Although my decision to spend Thanksgiving in Evanston wasn’t an attempt at some premeditated statement — more so just a Monday afternoon playwriting class and the not-so-thrifty price of plane tickets — I couldn’t help but get a little giddy with the prospect of countering tradition, too.
Countering tradition, according to a couple of college students invading a friend’s apartment, consisted of Motown playlists and sweet potatoes that taste like pie. Of sporadic phone calls and frantic Google how-to’s and questions like “Where are the innards?” Of cheap red wine and board games you don’t have to pretend to mock. After bouts of turkey-cursing, of scouring shelves for forgotten ingredients, of lost staring contests with dogged oven doors, two friends, myself, and a smattering of Northwestern stragglers, shared dinner.
There wasn’t room for all of us on the shoddy wooden breakfast nook, so in true hippie style, we sat on a blanket on the floor, the gravy seeping out from under our paper plates and onto our knees. There were nine of us in all — some recently introduced, others former dorm-mates, assorted acquaintances — but there could have been ten. Earlier that evening, in light of a slight cooking mishap, I had knocked on arbitrary neighbor’s doors in order to ask a favor. At the end of what appeared to be a futile quest, an obliging Peter answered, alone and turkey-less, and thoughtfully let us borrow his oven. We invited him to Vagabond Thanksgiving but he graciously declined. We left him a piece of pumpkin bread outside his door instead.
I couldn’t quite call everyone around me family, but it didn’t seem to matter. After all, to a college student, the idea of home grows increasingly more vague. It is only a matter of time before kitchens and playgrounds become replaced by the familiarity of a dorm room or the habitual briskness of a walk from Kresge to Tech. I, too, was often victim to the careless slip of the tongue, expressing the statement, “I’m staying home” when literally meaning, “I’m staying at Northwestern.” A slip no less, but perhaps not so careless.
Sitting there, devouring dinner rolls, weighing the pros and cons of white versus dark meat, it wasn’t really an issue that we knew neither everyone’s major nor the name of everyone’s high school. Those small-talk staples obviously made appearances, but before it was time for seconds we had penetrated most of the superficial prattle. No, there weren’t any staggering philosophical dialogues this Thanksgiving; I did not forge miraculous, eternal friendships. Instead, there was more so a kind of unadorned comfort. Maybe it was because we had each unabashedly dug our hands into a bird carcass. Maybe it was because we listened to Passion Pit while scrubbing the dishes. Maybe it was because we could come together with the communal knowledge that we were all just a little bit abandoned.
Moonlight snuck through the blinds and drumsticks were playfully contested, and nothing really extraordinary happened at all. But maybe that was all we needed, maybe that’s all anyone ever needs.
This Thanksgiving, I’m content to be immersed in these simple things. I’m thankful for friends who get my stupid sense of humor, for surprise desserts left behind by strangers, and for cranberry sauce out of a can. And of course, I’m thankful for Jewel Osco, the rain, and the twisted, childlike pleasure that comes from carrying a turkey in a Beck’s bag down Chicago Avenue.