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Thanksgiving and the Little Table

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Aside from puberty, nothing paves the way to adulthood like graduating from the children's little Thanksgiving table to the big grown-up table.

Sometimes you have to wait till somebody dies for a vacancy to open up at the big table. Death and the grown-up table have one thing in common: they're both rites of passage.

Not that there's anything wrong with being seated at the little table, but when a child reaches a certain age, he deserves to be promoted. Little does he know that life is all downhill once he outgrows that little table.

Every hostess knows to stick the kids at a card table and get them out of the way. No need for decorations or even a tablecloth. Shove some butcher’s paper on top and the kids can crayon their way to oblivion with some M&Ms squished onto peanut butter sandwiches and the promise of ice cream. An added benefit is that the grown ups at their separate table can now freely discuss adult stuff, like sizzling sex, steamy scandals, and why Robert De Niro insists on making comedies.

Action at the little table is more like the Keystone Kops, only the players are shorter. They’re Keystone Kids. They also discuss sex, but from a different perspective. To them, sex is about if no pants at all are good enough for Bugs Bunny, why aren't no pants at all good enough for SpongeBob and do ya think his weenie underneath is yellow?

Kids at the little table talk about how much smarter Bart Simpson is than Homer and go "D'uh, D'uh," while the little girls giggle and ponder why Barbie can't get Ken to marry her and do ya suppose he's gay? They don't know exactly what "gay" means, but it must be interesting because if that's what their parents are talking about when kids enter a room, conversation is immediately replaced by guilty looks and the explanation, "Whatever you're thinking, we weren't talking about Uncle Mary."

Thanksgiving dinner at one's own house is a traumatic event whether you have an uncle in a dress or not. Even Julia Child had trouble stuffing a bird and if it shot off her table and onto her floor when she inserted bread and nuts where bread and nuts had never been before, what can you expect in your own kitchen? Mayhem, that's what.

Husbands blame early menopause for the hysterics which precede holiday meals, but it's not that. It's the seating arrangements. They account for the hostess' swilling gin from that bottle in the kitchen and burning the turkey's skin because she's too loaded now to remember to baste. She tells people the booze is there for a special recipe, but we know better, ever since last year when she tried to stuff the bird with a kitchen towel that had a picture of a loaf of bread on it.

Consider the tipsy hostess running around trying to squeeze in additional chairs at the overcrowded grown-up table because Uncle Michael brought Harry, his transgendered friend ("You may call me Gail"). And then there's Patti, the hugely pregnant sister-in-law who keeps sliding off the chair, cannot get close enough to the table to eat properly, and has no lap to put a napkin on. She absolutely must be seated out of earshot of Aunt Anne who will take the opportunity to discuss the pain and perils of childbirth with gross and grizzly descriptions of when she had cousin Mark 30 years ago and invariably reminds people that the Chinese who say they had their babies in a rice paddy must be making that up.

And where does she seat the spinster aunt who'll sniff with disdain and doesn't believe pregnant Patti is even married because she wasn't invited to the wedding? Patti will be ultimately placed on grandma's left because grandma's good at murmuring soothing "There, theres" for no apparent reason and will not mind wiping the food bits off Patti's maternity smock. Put brother Bill on grandma's right, the side where she can't hear and therefore cannot be shocked by Bill's vivid description of his new job airbrushing the bulge onto Calvin Klein underwear ads.

If you are hosting the Corleone Family this Thanksgiving, you must seat them very carefully. There are books containing helpful hints to proper seating at Thanksgiving dinner, including suggestions to Feng Shui the entire room by removing all furniture except the table and chairs. The power position is the furthest from the door, backing up to the wall. That would of course be Marlon Brando's seat. It would be wise to seat enemies on the same side of the table so they can't stare each other down during the meal as well as cutting down chances of a gunfight during the Thanksgiving prayers of gratitude.

My Aunt Susan, the original Mistress of Deception, used to spray Mr. Clean in strategic locations before company came so they'd think she cleaned the house herself although the cleaning lady had come two days before. Then she'd dab some flour on her cheek so they'd think she actually made the gravy. Despite the fact that she had a standing order at the local market for a roasted turkey complete with side dishes, she'd come out of the kitchen wiping imaginary sweat from her forehead with the corner of an apron that spent the rest of the year in the attic just waiting for the holidays. She served the most divine pecan pie, bought at a bakery in a nearby town. A firm foot on the pedal of the kitchen trash can might net Aunt Anne proof that her suspicions were not imaginary, so the cake box gets buried in the yard so as not to be discovered by Aunt Anne on her quest to expose her younger sister's chicanery.

On the other hand, if you're a really dedicated person with friendly relatives and lots of kids scheduled to come for dinner on Thursday, just pour yourself a drink, plow ahead with solutions to seating problems, and look back at the days when you were without any responsibilities, still seated at the little table.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
November 23, 2005 column

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