The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
Dad buys a big turkey two days before the dinner so that he can start to brine it or something; our house smells like Thanksgiving for most of the week. He puts the turkey in the oven, after removing the giblets and tossing the whole mess in a big pan and cartoonishly tying the legs together. Tommy and I clean the downstairs, vacuuming up the stray crumbs and dog hair. Mom mashes potatoes and roasts vegetables. We buy a pie from New Seasons that sits on the shelf in front of our breadbox. I make a point to arrange the pillows on the living room couches and organize the dining room bookshelves.
November is the coldest month in Portland; this is clear as we help my mom scrape ice off of the car every morning. The air is dry, and my hands and cheeks turn red as I bike to school. November marks the beginning of wood stove season, meaning Dad carries armfuls of wood in from the garage most nights, and sets them down next to the fireplace with a bang. The night of our Thanksgiving is no different; sometime between getting the house ready and cooking the turkey, he kneels in front of the fireplace crumpling newspaper and fashioning little bits of kindling into a log cabin shape. I sit with my legs propped up on the coffee table, fidgeting to find the perfect position in which to read my Calvin and Hobbes book.
The table in the room behind me is set with hand-painted blue plates and mismatched wine glasses, unlit candles and gourds in the center. Mom always takes the seat nearest to the kitchen door, so she can rush in and out, carrying bowls of squash soup and bottles of wine and platters of food. As usual, the seats are filled with unknown cousins and friends from my dad’s work. No kids. They sit sipping glasses of wine, talking in a mixture of medical terminology and casual jokes. I sit curled over my soup, waiting for someone to ask about me.
“How old are you?” “What grade are you in?” “Are you liking school?” They aren’t bad questions, but they’re short-lived, and the adults soon go back to their conversation. My dad senses my need for attention, and mentions some book that I’ve read recently. I squeeze five minutes out of this topic, before the novelty dies away and I’m locked out of the conversation again.
Tommy and I sit side by side on the piano bench, drinking sparkling grape juice. Somebody notices the sheet music and asks who plays the piano. My reply is not at all timid. I’ll have played through my repertoire of colorfully-named piano pieces by the end of the night. Tommy plays piano as well, but is always more shy about it. He doesn’t like showing off.
The turkey eventually comes out; it’s the epitome of fall with its golden-brown skin shining under the lights. I’m not in my vegetarian phase yet, but I never eat turkey. The pasty, dry meat doesn’t appeal to me. Instead, I help my to heaps of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and asparagus. The obligatory piece of turkey sits on my plate all night, untouched. By the end of the meal, I’ll have discreetly slipped it into the kitchen garbage.
Mom loosens up after a glass of wine, and she laughs along with the group of adults, making jokes about the food and talking about her gardening plans. The tidbits of conversation directed towards me are enough to satiate my need for attention. By the time dessert comes out, Tommy and I have been sitting still for long enough, and after the pie and ice cream we hurry downstairs to play ping-pong. Tommy always beats me. When we are called back up to say goodbye to the guests, the table is cleared and the fire has died down to a mess of red coals.
Winter always comes early to our house. Without the excitement of Christmas to tide us over until spring, the widely acknowledged seasonal lull stays with us until spring. I’ve always been confused by the concept of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If something applies to everyone, is it a disorder? The winter months are mellow and subdued for everyone around me, and I can’t help but also feel the effect of the monochrome gray sky.