Sticky Toffee Thanksgiving
I suppose it's a glimpse of the future for our own Modern Family. Thanksgiving this year will be a rather quiet affair. With all four of our kids committed to be with the other halves of their extended families, we're facing our second Thanksgiving without our youngest members.
As always, fortunately, we'll have my wife's folks and my surrogate parents Max and Myrtis and hopefully their adult daughter Jean joining us at the table. But the household teenagers - half of whom are no longer teenagers - will be hundreds of miles away when the blessing is said and the serving dishes get passed.
For a short time, I confess, my wife and I actually considered hopping a plane to someplace exotic for the big day. It would be kind of a kick, for instance, to have Thanksgiving dinner in a Left Bank bistro in Paris or maybe the venerable peas and salmon meal at the old golf club we belong to on the windswept traces of North Devon, England.
The last time this happened, in fact - must have been seven or eight years ago - without informing a soul, we grabbed a couple of discount flights on Thanksgiving Eve and slipped away to England for a long weekend of golf, sticky toffee pudding, and a West End show.
Our dear friends Charles Churchill and Pinkie Slocum, who lived in the absurdly beautiful seaside village of Appledore and were headed to South Africa within days, kindly threw together a delightful "pre-Christmas-American-Thanksgiving" dinner complete with roasted goose and figgy pudding.
Pinkie, who owned a collection of antique kitchen utensils dating back to Elizabethan times, made everyone wear festive paper hats and sing carols while she distributed small gifts. My wife received a Victorian pill case, and I took home a faded vellum edition of Bernard Darwin's golfing essays. Pinkie's late husband Reggie was one of the world's great golf book collectors.
We finished a lovely holiday getaway by dining at Rules in Covent Garden, catching "Stones in My Pocket" in the West End and getting caught up in the vast London crowds after church services at St. Martin's in the Field on Remembrance Sunday, even managing to spot a couple of the Royals - Harry and his dad Charles, as I recall - laying a wreath of red poppies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
After that, we ducked into my favorite pub in the shadow of Westminster Abbey and ate our weight in sticky toffee pudding that was so good my plucky bride marched brazenly into the kitchen and convinced the startled chef to give up his private recipe.
All in all, it was a terrific Olde English Thanksgiving weekend, though our children expressed mild astonishment to discover their irresponsible parents would up and run away without telling them a thing about it.
"Dad," said Maggie, the oldest, "you really should have let us know what you were doing. A simple phone call would have been nice."
From my point of view, the only negative from our Anglo-Thanksgiving adventure was that there weren't any leftover turkey sandwiches. I mentioned this fact so frequently on the return flight that my traveling companion, upon landing, went out and secured and cooked a 30-pound turkey with all the trimmings. We ate turkey leftovers for the next week - thus, in a sense, having two holidays in one.
Canine Food Mooches
This year, even if we weren't lacking lunch money most days owing to two in college, one just out, and a fourth on the way, not to mention the malingering effects of the Great American Recession, a similar getaway to England or France just isn't in the cards, even if we wished it to be.
Besides, as happily reported, we have the senior faction of the family coming, plus three large dogs whose appetites for table scraps are insatiable - especially young Ajax, an amiable lug of a golden retriever who will turn 6 months old on or about Thanksgiving Day and shows early signs of being a world-class food mooch.
Mulligan and Ella, his female mentors, a black foundling retriever and an elderly golden, respectively, are seasoned holiday food-beggars, alas, gifted in the art of cadging scraps from kind-hearted table guests.
As history has shown, if we segregate them separately to an upper bedroom or shoo them collectively to the fenced backyard during family meals, they'll howl indignantly or team up to beat the doors down like Huns battering the gates of ancient Rome. So we allow them access to the feasting hall with repeated threats of banishment, all of which they blithely ignore.
One year - this was Christmas Day two years back - everyone shifted to the living room for dessert and coffee when a mysterious thud came from the just-vacated dining room. Unfortunately, several minutes passed before anyone thought to go investigate, whereupon we discovered the remains of a large Christmas ham missing from its previous known location on the serving platter on the sideboard.
A short time later, both thief and ham were found in the remotest section of the house, a rarely used upstairs bedroom, where Miss Mulligan sprawled leisurely on the bed gnawing on the Christmas joint.
Young Ajax will certainly bear watching this year, for he appears to be a food-mooching prodigy, displaying both the blond charm and expertise of a Monte Carlo jewel thief, having recently purloined the remains of a filet from an idle dinner plate in the time it took an unsuspecting houseguest to turn and speak to her table companion about what a beautiful and well-mannered beast he was.
When she glanced back, there he sat, the picture of smiling golden innocence, with the filet nowhere to be seen, having vanished down the little red lane. One of his best parlor tricks is to amble into the living room holding one of the empty feeding bowls in his mouth.
"Aw, look! How cute! He's hungry!" the uninitiated will coo, unaware of his devious endgame.
The English, of course, dearly love their dogs - hold and treat them better, some say, than most humans. I suppose, in this regard, we're a bit English in our observance of the classic American holiday. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without our crazy canine corps, especially in a year in which they'll undoubtedly feel the absence of any teenagers on the premises.
Things to Be Thankful For
I'll be thankful for them and a few other things, too:
A wife and life companion I treasure and admire even more as the years unfold.
Four great kids who inspire me with their pluck, decency and independence - young folks who I have no doubt will make a fine mark on the planet.
Work I love and friends and colleagues I deeply value.
A glorious final garden I aim to someday build, a fine novel or two I may leave behind, a handful of places I still dream of seeing with my bride - Istanbul's Blue Mosque at sunset, the River Jordan at dawn, Norway in high summer, Bavaria at Octoberfest.
At the end of the day, I suppose that's not a lot of remaining ambition. On the other hand, I'm a simple man who has traveled far and holds no particular fear of death, thankful that I seem to worry less and less about the unforeseen challenges and terrors of this life by concentrating on the unexpected pleasures and modest joys of the moment.
That will be my blessing come this empty-nest Thanksgiving Day: Thank you for these loved ones near and far, those on two feet as well as four. To be sure, I shall dearly miss our suddenly grown-up brood, but at least there will be a fine sticky toffee pudding.
All I've got to say is, young Ajax had better watch himself.
Jim Dodon, Sunday essayist for The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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