Before our first glimpse of Thanksgiving turkey or family, my long holiday weekend kicked off after work Wednesday when I arrived home around 4 p.m. to find Thursday morning’s newspaper already delivered, articles and all. The largest physical edition every year, Thanksgiving Day papers are coveted for their Black Friday ads, more or less the official Christmas season launch. Shoppers can’t wait to get started on it — hence more and more stores reopening on Thanksgiving itself, hours ahead of the Black Friday starter pistols. It stands to reason our carrier couldn’t wait to get past it, to unload this newsprint behemoth as soon as possible.
That same evening, TV gave us a light helping of Thanksgiving spirit. ABC once again reran A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, that heartfelt shout-out to anyone who was ever forced to cook for their family but was totally unprepared and failed miserably. (MCC previously nodded to it over here and over here.) Once again they paired it with the Pilgrim-themed episode of This Is America, Charlie Brown, a 1988 miniseries that had eight parts, seven of which had no remote connections with any holidays and have therefore languished in obscurity, apparently a complete waste of the animators’ talents and research.
Rather than search in vain for a Thanksgiving-themed flick, I queued up a Netflix Original called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, who previously brought us such works as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, No Country for Old Men, and so on and so on. The film is six Western short stories packaged together, filled with beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery but not quite aimed at the aging crowd who loves the idealized image of the cowboy as the saintly American hero. The closest to a holiday-themed keeper is the third short, “Meal Ticket”, in which Liam Neeson scrounges for spare change through a harsh wintertime as the caretaker of a particularly gifted young man who has no arms, no legs, a powerful speaking voice, an astounding memory, and a willingness to earn his keep as a traveling orator.
Excelling in the latter role is one fully transformed Harry Melling, previously best known as pudgy, selfish Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series. He’s come a long, long way since then, and is consequently living out a far more uplifting tale than that of his character. Without spoiling it, I can only say that any creative storyteller who’s ever felt overshadowed by other, vastly inferior entertainers may have to steel their hearts for the cold places where this one goes. Salieri raging at Mozart had nothing on Melling’s orator. The emotional ups and downs of the other five shorts varied (Zoe Kazan in “The Gal Who Got Rattled” should also wound the empathetic viewer), but “Meal Ticket” was a hard lead-in to an ostensibly happy holiday.
Friday morning stumbled early for me when local radio played Pentatonix covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which The Powers That Be have decided is now a Christmas song. I’m not convinced it worked back-to-back with Perry Como’s “Home for the Holidays”.
As usual we turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for background noise and only half-watched between other preparations and relaxations. I was distracted and nearly missed the Big Moment Everyone’s Talking About. I failed to drop everything, throw a party in our living room, and shout joy to the rooftops about history being made on the annual TV celebration watched mostly by nursing home residents and parents whose marching-band kids are in the parade. My bad.
This year our official Thanksgiving meal was at my cousin’s house. After Anne’s Mamaw passed away in June, their side of our family basically agreed to disband their Thanksgiving and start seeing other Thanksgivings. Instead we’re scheduled to get together with some of them for a board game night later this weekend. There’ll be food and interaction, and in my head a pool for betting on who wistfully mentions Mamaw first. It’ll be extremely weird without her.
So, over the highway and through the ‘burbs to my cousin’s place we went. On the way I fiddled with the car radio and found one of SiriusXM’s numerous holiday-themed channels, the one with the lowest channel number, diluting the snappy magic of Peggy Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by letting Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen sidle up to it with their own warbling, not to mention Lady Antebellum covering “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, a.k.a. “Gimme Dat Fireside Nookie”.
We walked in to confirm food prep was well underway. The first Avengers film moved ahead full speed on the living room TV and XBox, an apropos example of disparate folks coming together for a common purpose and a decent meal. We had turkey and ham; they had shawarma. They had Loki and aliens; we had Scattergories. They had Alan Silvestri’s bold theme; we had some weird camp song involving Pepsi Cola and ginger ale that devolved into musical chairs with lots of slapping. But it was gleeful slapping, not the kind of slapping incited at other families’ Thanksgivings whenever politics rear their deformed head.
My side of the family has tons of grandkids. I counted at least six missing, but a total head count of 18 attendees meant we didn’t lack for exuberance and noise. The serving tables showed the evolution of our aging family. Time was, our basic Thanksgiving featured turkey, Stove Top, rolls, green beans, mashed potatoes, and very little else. Two defiant peers each brought value-added flavors with corn casserole and broccoli casserole. (Full disclosure: the latter was Anne’s, one of her specialties. And we’re bringing more to board game night because her side loves it way more than my side does.)
Meanwhile on the dessert tip, half a dozen delights competed for space, two of them made with Splenda instead of sugar, because my cousins and I really are getting old. Paradoxically, no one thought to bring diet drinks.
After The Avengers wrapped up, another cousin queued up Planes, Trains and Automobiles, one of five theatrical films made after 1980 that ever mentioned Thanksgiving. We mostly ignored it in favor of conversation and/or watching the kids acting goofy, save one awkward pause for the big F-bomb meltdown scene between Steve Martin and Edie McClurg. Thankfully we were having a far better day than Mr. Martin did.
I’m still kindasorta glad we didn’t go with Plan A, which was the suggestion of skipping ahead a full month and playing either A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation. The hookups required for that option also would’ve opened the door to Netflix, and thereby a 5% chance of someone throwing caution to the wind and clicking on that new Christmas movie where Kurt Russell IS Santa Claus. Steve Martin and John Candy prevailed, but that was a close call.
My normal post-Thanksgiving routine is to come home, try not to nap for hours, and comb through the Black Friday ads. Thanks to our zealous carrier’s impatience, I’d already done that part the night before. That’s when HBO — which we don’t subscribe to — stepped in at the last minute and announced free access all weekend long. So much for catching up on my Netflix queue.
Last time they held a “watch-a-thon” I buzzed through all eight episodes of Richard Price’s The Night Of. I haven’t had time to lay out my priorities for this surprise opportunity, but I got the ball rolling with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, perfect scripting and timing in the same week that its celebrated screenwriter William Goldman passed away. Once again, as with the Splenda cheesecake and the “Call Me Maybe” girl begging for mittens, I was reminded of the downsides of encroaching oldness as the two aging robbers found their luck worsening by the minute when faced with competent advancements in law enforcement methodology and technology.
Now it’s late and we’re settled in for the evening. Our background noise is the closing hours of IFC’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse marathon, which earlier included the classic Christmas episode, packed with an all-star cast (well, at the Hollywood Squares level of “fame”), critical lessons about giving and sharing, sing-alongs, diversity, and challenging science fiction scenarios such as Jewish dinosaurs and Pee-Wee hanging up on a young Oprah Winfrey so he can hear Dinah Shore sing.
As usual, Anne had no appetite for the rest of the day. I contented myself with clearing out some pre-Thanksgiving leftovers, capped with a dessert of plain M&Ms left over from our Halloween overstock. Soon we’ll be as done with Halloween as we are with Thanksgiving.
So now we can start the Christmas season, a full 28+ hours after our local paper tried to jump-start it for us. Please don’t rush our holidays, folks. We only have so many left and we’d like to savor them while we still can, before we have to start skipping holiday desserts altogether, and while we still recognize any of the singers on Christmas radio.