No, I’m not talking about cooking the turkey or ham too long.
Most people don’t need much advice on that. Our once-feathered and furred friends are most likely to emerge from our ovens on time, tenderly and properly cooked.
I’m talking about talking. Conversation. Words.
No. 1: Talk politics.
If you are absolutely sworn-to-high-heaven dead set on ruining a Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps there is no more tried and proven way to do so than to simply bring up politics.
I know. I know. In your own mind you are absolutely inerrantly “right” about your view of politics and Uncle Bob’s view is horribly and plainly “wrong.” But a venerable family gathering is neither the time nor the place to promote your supposed intellectual superiority. So let Uncle Bob be “wrong.” For the sake of familial love, it’s more than worth it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the loving thing to do. So, don’t go there.
No. 2: Ask a question pertaining to weight gain.
“Oh, Cousin Tildy, have you lost weight?” This is often a “lose-lose” situation. Even if you’re complimenting Cousin Tildy for “losing” some weight, there is always Cousin Betty standing by, listening intently, who is now seething with jealousy because she seems to have swallowed a whole turkey since last Thanksgiving. Best thing you can do? “You look really good, Cousin Betty!” True, she might detect a glimmer of white lie in your eye, but what else are you gonna say? — “Cousin Betty, you’d look pretty even if you swallowed a turkey?”
No. 3: Talk only with the people you especially like.
This is a way of “very subtly, almost imperceptibly” ruining most any Thanksgiving. You or “they” may not even overtly notice this as it happens, as at many annual dinners it has often become such a reflexive “tradition” to avoid certain people. Be courageous enough to be the one who talks and/or sits with someone different this Thanksgiving. You gotta remember; certain family members may actually secretly wish for the chance to talk with you, but they don’t quite know how. Or they are afraid. Or they just don’t like you (because they really never got to know you, kin or not). Be the one who takes a chance. Such chances are the gravy and stuffing of life itself.
No. 4: Don’t go.
Sounds silly, but it’s true. Many an otherwise able-bodied American will simply choose not to attend the family Thanksgiving dinner. There are any number of excuses under heaven which you may conjure up. You may think you won’t be missed (yes, you will always be missed — you are family). You may think that because you must travel to two family dinners (as does many a family) and you don’t want to “cut too short” on both, so you decide to just forego one dinner completely (oh, but you will be missed).
No. 5: Keep harboring a long-held grudge.
You may secretly not really want to go because of the dread of seeing or talking to a particular family member over some long-held grudge or family secret (though it is equally likely someone is thinking the same about you).
Best thing to do, bury the grudges. Forgive the past. Let go. You’re all gonna be dead and gone soon enough, anyway, no matter your current age. There is often no better time nor place to do one of the greatest things any human soul can ever do — forgive past transgressions and misunderstandings — than at a family Thanksgiving dinner. If you do such a thing, it will tickle your soul’s taste buds better (and last far longer) than even Nannie’s pumpkin pie.
My friends, if you are blessed enough to attend one, may your coming Thanksgiving dinner be a meaningful and joyous gathering.
Ben Talley is a member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year, a McGlothlin Award Winner for Teaching Excellence, and a recipient of the Bristol Mayors Award for lifetime community service to his hometown.